20 Shameful laws you’d never believe were real

Imagine living in a society where your basic freedoms are violated. Where you risk imprisonment for not following certain religious practices or from suffering devastating health complications? Well, it may seem unimaginable but this is the stark reality of human rights worldwide.

In fact, day in day our fundamental rights are being violated by governments worldwide. I’ve drawn up a list of 20 shocking legal scenarios in countries all across the world – across almost every continent – to show just how precious our human rights and why we must never give up the fight for freedom and justice worldwide. So with that, I present to you, in no particular order: 20 laws that you’d never believe were real – but very much are!

1. Being the “wrong kind of Muslim” can lead to the death penalty 

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In Pakistan, strict blasphemy laws include the death penalty for those found guilty

In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims are forbidden from calling themselves ‘Muslims’. If an Ahmadi Muslim gives the call to prayer (makes the azan), recites from the Holy Qur’an in public or greets people with the typical greeting: Assalam aleykum (‘Peace be upon you’) and is found guilty, then they not only face three years in prison but also the death penalty according to current blasphemy laws (although no such executions have yet taken place). Read one case here.

2. Having a miscarriage can lead to imprisonment

In El Salvador, if you suffer a miscarriage you could face 30 years in prison for “aggravated homicide”. Read about one ongoing case here of a young girl in El Salvador having suffered a still birth who has been accused of killing her child and is currently in prison.

3. Marrying the girl you rape means you can escape criminal charges 

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In 2012, 16-year-old Amina Filali (Morocco) committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist. The law was later amended following protests and pressure from Amnesty International

Rather shamefully, in many countries across the globe, if you are found to have raped a girl/woman but marry her, you can legally avoid a criminal conviction. This is the sad reality in a variety of countries including Bahrain, IraqKuwaitLibya and Palestine. Thankfully, a host of other nations worldwide across the MENA region, Latin America and Europe – including Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan – have  appealed / are soon to amend such laws with Bahrain next in the queue. See here and here for more information.

4. FGM is legal and carried out in hospitals

Despite attempts to ban FGM in Indonesia, the practice is still legal. According to UNICEF, a staggering 49% of girls in Indonesia aged 14 and under have been victim to FGM/C (2010 – 2015) which is in fact carried out in local hospitals. Read more here.

5. It is illegal to go to school in a headscarf 

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Public displays of “conspicuous religious symbols” mean that Muslim women/girls cannot wear a headscarf at school, whilst small crucifixes as pendants are allowed

In France, if you’re Muslim hijabi (you wear a headscarf) then you are unable to teach in State primary and secondary schools. Likewise, students cannot wear a headscarf to school. In 2004, a new law on “conspicuous religious symbols in schools” was introduced, meaning that Muslim women and girls were ever pushed to work/study in private Islamic schools or give up their right to wear their hijab. The law also applies for Jewish kippahs and Sikh turbans.

6. Your faith is officially banned 

Religious persecution is rife across the globe and China holds no exception. Having officially banned the practice of the Falun Gong, they’ve gone even further as to harvest their organs illegally. Read more here.

7. It’s legal to marry girls aged 14 years or under

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A 14-year-old girl in preparation for marriage (Indonesia) – Image credit: UN Photo/Armin Hari (CC BY NC-ND 2.0)

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 girls worldwide are married before their 18th birthday. In Bangladesh, Iran, Saudi Arabia and certain US States, children as young as 14 or less are also being drastically let down by the law. In Indonesia [pictured], the official legal minimum age for marriage is 16 for girls and 19 for boys, but exceptions can be made. Over in the USA, a series of legal “loopholes” mean children as young as five can technically be married to middle-aged men. In Iran, the standard legal age of marriage is a shocking 13 years old but girls as young as nine or 10 years old can be married by their fathers/grandfathers by getting permission from the courts.

8. You cannot go out in public as a female if you’re not covering your hair and body 

Imagine being forced to cover – not out of religious choice – but legal obligation? This is the reality in Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Saudi, women are legally obliged to wear an abaya (long gown) and headscarf, whilst women in Iran are also obliged to dress according to the requirements of hijab by wearing long, lose, opaque clothing covering the body and a headscarf covering their head and hair.

9. You can legally have sexual intercourse if you’re 14 years old in over 30% of European States

Did you know that across Europe, children – yes children – aged as young as 14 can legally have sex? This is quite simply unbelievable. Where is this you may ask? Well check out this long list: Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lichtenstein, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia and Vatican City. That’s a shocking 16 out of 52 States

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In just under a third of EU States, children aged 14 years old can “legally have sex”, meaning adults can escape prosecution for having sexual relations with young girls/boys

10. Husbands can forbid their wives from working 

In Cameroon and Guinea, if you don’t want your wife to work, then you have every legal right to forbid her from doing so. In Afghanistan and Yemen, a husband also has the legal right to stop/control how and when his wife can leave the house, therefore affecting her ability to work.

11. You cannot legally get divorced 

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As in the Catholic faith, the legal system in The Philippines means that a couple cannot get divorced – as is in the case in the Vatican City

The Philippines – and more obviously Vatican City – a married couple cannot seek a legal divorce. A couple can get their marriage annulled which requires a mental health assessment, court appearance and generally lengthy and expensive process. However, things might be set to change. Read more here and watch this space!

12. It’s legal to hit your wife 

Imagine if you were not only subject to domestic violence but had no legal right to seek justice? Well this is the reality in a host of countries including: Armenia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Egypt, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Iran, Latvia, Lesotho, Niger, Nigeria and Yemen. Find out more here.

13. Telling people that gay people are normal is a criminal offence

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As astonishing as it sounds, the Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values” – known as the “Gay propaganda law” – makes it illegal to “promote non-heterosexual relationships” to minors. The law effectively stigmatises and entire community and promotes homophobia. Read more here and here.

14. Husbands face no legal charges for raping their wife

Despite the attitude of some people which denies marital rape as a “concept”, marital rape is in fact “permitted” legally in the following countries: Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lesotho, Nigeria, Oman, Singapore, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. In her study, Emily Shugerman found four of these countries also allow marital rape when the victim is still a child.

15. Women cannot legally enter football stadiums 

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Image credit: Chris Marchant (CC BY 2.0)

Iran comes up trumps again for another law aimed at women. Yes, if you’re a woman in Iran you cannot enter a football stadium – well not legally anyway. The reasoning behind this law? Absolutely no idea!

16. You can be executed for homosexual acts 

We all know that LGBT rights are sadly lacking in many countries but in 11 countries in particular, you can be executed for “committing homosexual acts”. Yep, in Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, northern Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, southern Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, you face the death penalty. Find out information here.

17. You can legally buy a gun but are deemed too young to buy alcohol 

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I find it very very odd indeed that in the USA, you can buy a gun (with some exceptions) aged 18 but you’re still deemed too young (and immature) to buy alcohol. Whatever your stance on gun ownership (I’m firmly against), I can’t see any sort of logic that says you’re only mature enough to buy alcohol aged 21 (a substance which can affect your own health and potentially other people through your behaviour) but you can own a highly dangerous violent weapon which can automatically kill others…?

18. Eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is illegal 

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours. This is of course – or should be – a spiritual choice for God and God alone. However, in many Muslim countries it’s actually illegal to eat and drink in public during daylight hours in Ramadan. This includes: Iran, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Now, I’m not advocating being disrespectful and wafting food right under people’s noses (a bit of sensitivity can go a long way) but for non-Muslims and non-practising Muslims alike (also those unable to fast!), this is a step too far.

19. You cannot join a worker’s trade union 

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Image credit: habeebee (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Trade unions are an important mechanism for workers, enabling them to come together for the protection of their working rights such as the right to appropriate, safe working conditions, equal adequate pay and the right to vacation and adequate rest and leisure. But if you’re in the UAE, trade unions are officially illegal. Full stop. Currently also illegal in Saudi Arabia, the government is now in the process of introducing the General Union of Saudi Workers.

20. You must earn £18,600 a year (plus £2,400 – £3,800 per child) for your spouse to be able to live with you in your country 

Picture this: you go abroad to study and you meet the love of your life. Or perhaps, you fall in love with a fellow student and decide you want to get married and stay in your country. What’s the problem? Well, hang on. If your partner is a non-EU citizen and you want them to live with you at home, unless they’re going to be your carer or they’re from a war zone, then you’re obliged to earn £18,600 a year to be able to sponsor them and apply for a spousal visa to live together in the UK. Add on top £3,800 for your first child and £2,400 for each other individual child. Where is this strange law? Well, it’s right here in the UK!

So there you have it folks – a small snapshot into just why we need human rights conventions, mechanisms, laws and courts!

Salam!

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Italy: Second generation immigrants wait for passports

The reform of Italy’s citizenship laws has caused hunger strikes, anti-racism protests and huge debates across the country. Today, one million people born on Italian soil fail to be recognised as Italian. For two years, they have been waiting for a law blocked in the Senate, and their struggle to be recognised as an italiano vero is all too real.

After being bombarded by the press and across television channels, the Italian government finally addressed the issue of reforming Italy‘s citizenship laws. The result was jus soli (a.k.a. birthright citizenship). However, masking over current legislative controversies with this new label means nothing. This new legislation would by no means grant those born on Italian soil the right to citizenship (as is the case in the USA). Instead, the government introduced the term ius soli temperato. This regulation underlines a temporary status, placing a series of incredibly detailed limitations and conditions on the right to obtaining Italian citizenship. This way, Italy won’t risk becoming “the breeding ground for Africans and terrorists,” as was described by certain national tabloid newspapers.

“Italy is a mother that doesn’t want us as children”

The immediate and most significant effect this new law will have – if it does indeed get approved – is that it will improve the lives of around one million people (a number estimated by the Italian statistical body Istat). These people’s legal status as Italian residents will no longer be a topic of debate, but instead become a reality. The issue around so-called second generation Italians (those who are born or grow up in Italy) is that whilst these people feel Italian, on paper they’re not. Above all, the law will bear favorably on those who, at around age 18, would only have been a year away for applying for citizenship. It will favor those who’ve passed through the Italian education system but who still have to wait ten years to start the expensive and exhausting bureaucratic process to obtaining citizenship.

The debate around citizenship arises from fear; fear of the ‘other’, fear of people’s failure to integrate, fear of potential terrorist attacks… At this time in Italy, talk about the danger of racial dominance, easy citizenship and the “Islamisation” of society is out in the open.

To deny the right to citizenship means saying no to people who are legally living in Italy, who are registered, who have a doctor, who go to school and who pay taxes, contributing to the national economy. That’s why, in the many protests that have taken place over the last few months, you can read: “Italy is a mother that doesn’t want us as children,” on many signs. With a lot of effort, some have managed to become officially Italian. But what needs to be done for the one million to get their citizenship, and what are the rights of these young people?

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture


Blessy and her endless expectations

“My parents were granted citizenship before me,” says Blessy Nambio bitterly. She was born in a hospital in Rome to Filipino parents, who have been in Italy for 30 years. Blessy is 28, speaks with a strong Roman accent, and was finally able to read the word “Italian” on her ID card just three short weeks ago. As a ‘non-resident’ for the first six years of her life, Blessy was unable to apply for citizenship at 18, despite being able to show evidence of going to school and receiving medical vaccinations.

She then had to renew her residence permit for more than ten years, first for family reasons, then for her studies. Having reached the age of 18 and being legally independent, she no longer met the income criteria required to apply for citizenship.

For Blessy, who now teaches Italian, citizenship isn’t what makes you Italian, but it does make a difference. “Paper talks,” she concludes. When she tells her students that she’s an Italian national, they’re not surprised: “Nowadays citizenship doesn’t have an ethnicity,” she explains.

Shehan and hidden racism

Back in 2011, the notion that the Italian citizenship law needed to be reformed had already been brought to light. In Milan people realised that, although the law existed, very few youngsters who had reached the age of 18 were realising their right to citizenship – presumably because they were not aware of it. Milan, like other cities, had overcome the lack of awareness on the issue with a special initiative: send letters to any foreigners turning 18 and remind them that they can apply for citizenship up until their 19th birthday. However, this solution was only introduced in some municipalities and promoted by mayors while the initiative never rolled out across the rest of the country.

Shehan Horawala, born in Milan, remembers the moment that letter arrived at his house. As a child, his classmates saw him as ‘foreign’ because of the colour of his skin. “People still think that you need to be white to be Italian, that you have to have certain physical features,” he says. The defeat of the State in the face of second generation Italians without a legal status is evident from Shehan’s words: “I have never felt so foreign in my country than when I was forced to queue up at the police station, along with my mother, to renew my residency permit.”

No one who has experienced waiting in line for hours at a time in the cold to be granted your turn to hand in documents, and have your fingerprint taken as a child, would say that it was a dignified and pleasant experience as an adult.

Now 28 years old, Shehan is a financial broker in the city where he was born and raised. He took his first trip around Europe at age 18 and for him, being Italian means “first of all having the opportunity to move and travel freely.” He’ll be moving to London in the hopes of continuing his career in the heart of the financial world. Perhaps, without the right information, Shehan would never have become an Italian Citizen.

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture

Cristina and European barriers 

Like Shehan, Cristina also considers being able to travel freely one of a range of rights granted to Italian citizens.

Like Shehan, Cristina also considers being able to travel freely one of the fundamental rights granted to Italian citizens. Cristina Mallak was born in Italy but her parents are of Egyptian origins. Her father came to this side of the Mediterranean to escape the persecution of the Coptic Christians, leaving behind his degree in economics. After being granted Italian citizenship, he passed his citizenship on to his daughter. In 2007, when Cristina was in her last year of middle school, she played the Italian national anthem as her father took his solemn oath to the Italian Republic.

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Protesting Italy’s current laws on the right to citizenship | Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture

“Maybe not having citizenship would have stopped me from being able to travel around Europe and gain work experience as part of my studies,” says Cristina. Culture and education are two factors highlighted by this bill. In the case of second-generation migrants, Italy relishes in its schools of excellence but doesn’t safeguard the future (and present) of its country and people.

In her final years of high school, Cristina was rewarded by her region for excellent school results and has since continued her studies, graduating in international communication. She recently finished a year of civil service, which was previously off-limits to those without Italian citizenship. It’s thanks to a petition launched by four second-generation Italians, along with the ASGI (The Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration), that now even “Italians without citizenship” can undertake a civil service.

Blessy, Shehan and Cristina feel “fortunate” to have obtained Italian citizenship. However, to support all of the others who are still waiting in limbo for a passport, all three of them joined the protests in the piazza along with thousands of others to carry on daily battles and open new roads for the children of immigrants; ghosts not recognised by their own state.

Credits and acknowledgements

Author: Nadeesha Dilshani Uyangoda (translated by Elizabeth Arif-Fear), first featured via Café Babel (17/10/2017) (c)

Images: Giuseppe Marsoner/Più Culture (c)

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Statement on Srebrenica Memorial Day 2017

July 11th is Srebrenica Memorial Day 2017. This year, we are recognising the 22nd anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica, during which thousands of men and boys were systematically murdered, simply because they were Muslim. It is vital to commemorate Srebrenica to take a stand against hatred and discrimination that targets groups based on their religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or any type of difference.

During the course of the conflict that took place in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, between 20,000 and 50,000 women were raped, and sadly in societies all over the world, including our own, there still remains a lot of stigma around sexual violence. This year, we are working with the charity Remembering Srebrenica to commemorate the genocide, and to reflect on the experiences of women in conflict. Remembering Srebrenica’s theme this year is Breaking the Silence: Gender and Genocide. This year is about recognising the strength and resilience of women who have survived conflict, standing committed to challenging sexism and gender based violence within our own communities. You can read more about this year’s theme on Remembering Srebrenica’s website.

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Ten years since the war in Bosnia ended with the signing of the Dayton peace agreement in November 1995, thousands of people are still deeply traumatised by the war. Here a woman cries for her sons and husband who were killed in the massacre at Srebrenica

It is now more important than ever for us to come together, no matter what our background, to celebrate diversity and to stand together in solidarity against hatred and discrimination. I wrote about the Srebrenica genocide in a previous post last year, which I urge you to take a look at. It is vital that we remember this tragedy in order to not repeat the mistakes of the past and honour the memories of the innocent men, women and children who were killed, just for being Muslim.

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On the 11th of each month the Women of Srebrenica gather in the main square of Tuzla to stand in silent protest of their missing and dead men

I hope you will join us in mourning the loss of those who died at Srebrenica, and reflecting on how we as individuals, groups and communities can come together to build a better future without hatred.

Salam, peace ♡

Text and images: Remembering Srebrenica

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Gender, colour, faith: Tell Mama reveals the shocking truth about hate crime in the UK

I recently met with Fiyaz Mughal (OBE) – Founder and Director of the UK hate crime organisation Tell Mama. As the leading body in reporting Islamophobic and racial hate crime, I wanted to find out in light of Brexit, the rise to power of Trump, ISIS’ ongoing tirade of extremism and the spate of recent European terrorist attacks, how the nature of hate crime has changed in the UK and who is most affected. Here’s what I found out…

[…]

VoS: For Muslims and non-Muslims out there, can you tell us a little about the work that you do?

TM: So, the work of Tell Mama involves many different prongs; the first being direct support to victims who have suffered anti-Muslim hatred who make contact with us through a variety of means (WhatsApp, email etc.). We provide detailed case work support; writing to agencies if need be,  collecting evidence, talking to police forces, trying to get prosecutions with the police in relation to anti-Muslim hatred. Then there’s the other flip side, which is really about advocacy and emotional support. Many, many, many victims are Muslim women and certainly the targeting of Muslim women involves not just Islamophobia and anti-Muslim material but also a lot of misogynistic material – a lot of gender hate material that’s mixed in, as well as racialised language so it’s really unpacking that and giving them that kind of emotional support – so multiple services. […] The two other prongs; creating and sustaining good educational material that’s out there for not just schools but for use in the public domain through social media as well as some small courses for schools that we produce educational material for. Last but not least, we are really heavy on trying to influence policy change – not just with social media companies but with government and police forces around understanding anti-Muslim hatred.

VoS: So you said you deal with a lot of hate crime which affects Muslim women in particular. Especially since Brexit and the rise of ISIS over in The Middle East, there’s been a sharp rise in racist and Islamophobia attacks in the UK and Europe and North America. One shocking case for example was of a Muslim lady who was attacked in London, causing her to later miscarry her twins. I’m presuming this didn’t come as a surprise to you? Were you expecting a sharp increase in the rise of hate crime since Brexit and in the current political situation?

TM: When we started the project with Tell Mama in 2011, we came across an online world which was absolutely full of anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred. There was no checking. There was no counter-speech. There were enormous amounts of accounts that were promoting anti-Muslim bigotry. We knew that that would have a real world impact from the virtual to the real. We could see that. So in 2011, we realised early on that actually there was a wind – a nasty wind – that was coming across the horizon and was going to affect Muslim communities. So, did we expect this? Well, yes. Did the statistics start to pan that out? Yes. And that was also corroborated by police forces. Did we expect more aggressive stance towards Muslims at a street level? Yes. And so this case does not come out of the blue. Sadly, we expect that actually there will be more incidences of assaults and we’ve seen a change at a street level from predominantly verbal abuse before to now over the last few years a much aggressive level of physical incidences taking place – again predominantly at visible Muslim women. So it’s moved from the virtual about what people were thinking into the practical in people wanting to do things and that’s a bad place. This is not going from people thinking about it. They’re actually thinking and doing it now.

VoS: So do you think that it’s simply -as some people have said – that the political and social situation has evolved in such a way that it’s almost been normalised to behave in such way and so people are just expressing opinions and hate they had before or that people’s opinions have actually become more extreme since the recent political crisis?

TM: We also know that international and national incidences create large spikes of anti-Muslim hatred – Paris, Charlie Hebdo, all of them… We’ve got evidence of the numbers of cases coming in. Did we expect Brexit to cause such a large rise? Actually we didn’t but what Brexit did do was clearly bring out the views that people had. These things don’t just fester overnight. They’re there. So Brexit was an amplifying point for them and so to your question: it’s a combination. Today what we’re seeing is a combination of people who are emboldened to think that they what they believe which may be prejudicial bigoted and racist is actually okay to say – that’s the first thing. The second thing you asked is if are there more people who are becoming anti Muslim. The answer is that there is actually an influence of what I would clearly class as extremist material which is anti Muslim in nature and percolating into the minds of younger men in our society who are then targeting Muslims and Muslim women in particular. So yes, there are more people consuming accepting and regurgitating extremist anti Muslim material and there are individuals who had these previous thoughts who now think it’s justified and validated that they can say them. It’s a combination of both.

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Photo credit: Chris Page

VoS: That’s very interesting. Why do you think young non-Muslim British males in particular? You said there was a lot of misogyny and sexist crime. Is that particularly to do with the veil or because Muslim women may appear as less likely to be able to defend themselves?

TM: When we’ve spoken to some of the perpetrators there’s been the notion that they’re not going to be threatened by the victim – the victim is not going to stand up physically to them. That’s the first thing. So there is a validity in what you’re saying. The second thing is that the targeting of Muslim women is quite complex. In some of the perpetrators we have discussed this with, the first thing is an extremist anti-Muslim view promoted by not just far right groups but the new alternative right – the Trump brigade, the people who who believe the nonsense that Muslims are here to take over the world… That alternative right kind of narrative has promoted the view that actually Muslims are here to take over the West by outbreeding everyone. This is the nonsense and the toxic extremism that is promoted that feeds the minds of some of these perpetrators in which Muslim women are the carriers of the future generation, as the “prolonger” of Islam, as the gender which will actually keep Islam and Muslims in Europe. That’s why there’s a drive towards Muslim women subconsciously in the minds of some of these people. So it’s physical – they know they’re not going to be attacked but Muslim women have also become not only symbolic of the longevity of Islam but also symbolic of Islam itself. When you get that combination – that’s why they’re being targeted. What’s bizarre and I think I think there’s a very strange link here which is around the procreation again is that the amount of sexual language that is thrown at Muslim women. We have not seen this behaviour before but it is particularly acute online. So what you find is two women talking on Twitter. They just say, you know: “What do you do today?”, “I went to the cinema” etc.  and suddenly a troll will come in and basically say “Oh you look really sexy in your hijab.” And what they’re trying to do: they’re trying to humiliate the woman by targeting her sexuality because she’s religious to you and so in their minds that humiliates her. They’re sexualising them to humiliate them but let me be very clear: those people who are doing that towards Muslim women will in many instances also have  deeply deeply troubling views towards women in general. So there’s a confluence that they they they think really badly of women but as this is a Muslim women they feel more confident to vocalise this. You know they will be thinking about other women but it’s Muslim women that they’ll vocalise it towards. That’s the distinguishing thing right now.

VoS: So how have you dealt with this sharp increase in hate crime in particular, in dealing with the amount of reports and complaints you’ve received? What’s life been like as an organisation since Brexit in terms of case loads and complaints?

TM: So we’ve seen a year on year increase. What we’ve started to pick up now is a combination because possibly more people know about us but the data also clearly shows that when there  is a major incident like a terrorist incident, the spikes are getting higher and higher. Let me give you a really clear example. We had the brutal murder of Lee Rigby and the pictures were pretty brutal on newspapers. They were all over them. That was the first indicator that there was a huge anti Muslim backlash taking place. We  recorded that and we vocalised that in the press. To some degree you can understand that actually there will be a backlash given the pictures and given that it happened in Woolwich, in England, in our streets. But when you have Charlie Hebdo and when you have Paris and particularly Paris which is 400 miles away and the peak is even higher than after the murder of Lee Rigby: that is indicating to you a disturbing trend that something 400 miles away is even higher than the brutal murder of somebody right on our street. That’s disturbing. That’s where this is going. The more Muslim communities are buffeted by international incidences, the more fractures are taking place between communities, the more brittle, the more hardline views are becoming towards Muslims and even those people who may have been receptive and susceptible to engagement with Muslim communities are now starting to think: “Have these these groups got a point about Muslims?” That’s the problem! Views in some areas are regressing not progressing !

VoS: Well it goes beyond social identity debates into a wider debate about Islam looking at Islam as a whole. Obviously, a lot of your work is going to be confidential but what sort of reports and cases have you dealt with which you can share with us on a broad basis?

TM: So the cases will range from general abuse, through to neighbourhood disputes and cases where people have actively tried to run over women in a vehicle, through to bombing campaigns. After the murder of Lee Rigby, what was reported to us from some of the masjids was that there were explosive devices left in some mosques in Walsall, Wolverhampton and Tipton [in the West Midlands]. One of the mosques in fact informed us about the explosive device and they tipped us off. That’s the kind of variety of work we get in. And by the way – the crossover at that point between the explosive devices being left outside mosques was not because was not triggered by the murder of Lee Rigby – it intersected at the same time. It was  done by a neo-Nazi. So there’s a range of work we deal with. We are becoming quite an intelligence hub about what the threats to Muslim communities are today.  

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Photo credit: Tim Green

VoS: In addition to hatred from outside Muslim committees you also focus on what you refer to as intra-Muslim bigotry. Could you explain a little more about this for people that are perhaps confused by this term?

TM: So intra-Muslim bigotry is basically what we call Muslim on Muslim hate incidences. Members of the Shia community will report to us when they’re targeted for being Shia, members of the Ahamdiyyah community will report to us when they’re targeted because they’re Ahmadiyyah… No other Muslim organization tackling Islamophobia does that. Why is the question and the response should be in life that if you are targeted because of an element of your identity that needs to be recorded and support provided to you in relation to that. So doing this work is really important 1. to honour the victim; 2. to provide practical assistance to the victim; 3. not to take any political view of whether people should be washing their dirty laundry in public. This is not about that. This is about human rights. This is about the rights of individuals. The numbers reporting to us is not high  but I can tell you: the bigotry towards Ahmadiyyah communities is quite significant. And actually the spike we saw after the murder of Asad Shah was worrying. So we record and we call it out because it is wrong. I think this issue of intra-Muslim bigotry is something that Muslim committees need to get over and that actually, they need to start vocalising that this kind of internal hatred is not acceptable.

VoS: Being vocal is definitely important. You’ve faced criticism in the past for being what’s been classed as “soft” on Muslim groups which are often deemed heretical by certain people. How have you responded to members of the Muslim community with these views about the importance of overcoming these issues and divisions and addressing hate crime throughout the community?

TM: It’s a really important question you raise. Look this is where I will revert back to our belief as a staff members in Tell Mama – and we’re not all Muslim. Only one third of the team is Muslim. So Muslims are in the minority running Tell Mama let me just say that to people on your blog because it’s really important to realise that this is a movement which is not just about Muslims: it’s about human rights. The second thing I want to say is let me revert back. I’m a Muslim and for me and those Muslims in the team in Tell Mama – the view is pretty clear that in Islam there is no difference in values of the protection of human rights and the protections of individuals. In Islam there is no difference […]. Islam is very clear about that. The history of Islam is is consistent with that. Islam does not say brush things under the carpet. Islam says defend those who may be weak. It doesn’t say so do because they are Muslim. It says defend anyone who is attacked – whether they’re Christian, Jewish, non-believing… Your right to defense by Muslims is sacrosanct. Your right to be defended by Islam is in the Qur’an. It’s in Islamic tradition. So, we make it clear that if you think that just because members of the Ahmadiyyah community are reporting in and that’s bad and let’s not talk about it and they’re not really Muslims…then you were taking away the very core issue of Islamic theology which is to defend the weak and defend the oppressed and defend those who are targeted. It doesn’t matter who or whey’re your from. It doesn’t matter what sexuality or where you come from. Defend your rights is key.

VoS: Prior to the unfortunate murder of Asad Shah in Glasgow, had you received many reports of hate crime between Muslim groups? What’s the difference ? Has there been a change both before and after this event? Was that a huge marker or was that just one unfortunate incident?

TM: Again brilliant question. The answer is no. There were other markers. The first time we came across intra-Muslim bigotry recorded by us and reported to us was during the start of the Syrian civil war. The first indicators we got was when members of the Shia community started reporting to us around 2012/2013. So we did start to see anti Shia bigotry being reported to us and then the Asad Shah murder created a spike of anti-Ahmadiyyah cases coming to us. So there’s been a general rumbling, just a slow burning rumble of intra-Muslim hate cases that we receive but what’s clear again is national/international impacts don’t just affect Muslims, they also affect intra-Muslim bigotry. The Syria crisis created a lot of anti-Shia rhetoric. Asad Shah’s murder happened and then suddenly you see people thought that because he was Ahmadiyyah he deserved it, even though the murder of Asad Shah was not related to him being Ahmadiyyah. The murderer said he killed him because Asad Shah was saying he was a prophet of God – distinctly different. You see the bigotry just seeped in – completely different to facts and that is what we are dealing with. If we’re to tackle these issues we have to be brutally honest and anti-Ahamdiyyah rhetoric is quite accepted in a large section of Muslim communities. It may not be vocalised but there’s a claim of acceptance. I personally think it’s wrong. Do I think that we need to challenge that? Yes. On the issue of what we receive in cases, these individuals deserve and have every right to access the same service as anyone else.

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Photo credit: Descrier

VoS: Have you received a significant number of calls for help from any other particular group and could you tell us a little bit about this?

TM: Firstly, some individuals will report to us thinking that they can trip us up by thinking “they won’t service us. […] Let’s trip up Tell Mama and say ‘I’m Christian. Will you help me?'” Well, you’re not tripping us up because actually if you’re Christian or you’re Jewish and you report to us we will provide you with the same service. Secondly, the first time another group started reporting to us was after Brexit. Two groups reported to us: Eastern European communities and African Caribbean women. Here we go back to the gender issue. Why? From talking to the African Caribbean women, we found that the “N word” came back into the lexicon – old racism. Three African Caribbean women reported to us just a day after Brexit to say that they had been called that racial word that they hadn’t heard in 20 years. But… all of them were women. That is not a large enough figure to make an extrapolation but certainly the fact that they were women tells us about gender and goes back to what I said before. Gender has to be looked at. Eastern European communities also report to us and we had five cases from Polish communities who were targeted as well.

VoS: Yes there was the unfortunate murder of the Polish gentleman. That’s been a big issue. Do you believe the government is doing enough to tackle hate crime and Islamophobia? Islamophobia is now recorded as a separate category of hate crimes so it won’t fall into the bracket of racial crimes etc. beyond that – do you think they’re doing enough?

TM: Yes, but not enough. The government have made huge headway in understanding that anti-Muslim hatred is a real problem that needs to be tackled. When we started our work in Tell Mama the government was in a different place. It was very difficult for them to understand the nature of the problem and the place the government is in today is substantially different in its understanding of anti-Muslim hatred from five years ago. They’re putting money in. They’re putting resources in. Ministers are standing up and are constantly reaffirming the fact that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred is something they need to tackle as well as other strands. But, they have also done something else. Looking at the Action Against Hate hate Crime action plan for 2016 that the government produced, within the thread of every page they’ve mentioned Islamophobia as a key issue they need to tackle. So there’s a lot more that can be done but let’s commend the government for what they have done. Many people within Muslim communities constantly bash away at government and I’m one of those people who will absolutely hold government to account if I think that they’re fundamentally wrong. I’ve actively challenged the government on issues. So I’m not sitting here as some kind of a puppet for the government. No. They know I actively challenge them but when they’ve done something right, we need to commend them and they’ve done a lot in this area and will continue to do a lot more.

VoS: What are your predictions for the immediate future? What do you believe are the main challenges ahead for both Tell Mama and British society in terms of social harmony and political based issues and in light of this, what are Tell Mama’s goals for the coming future?

TM: The fact is that 2017 will be turbulent with major political shifts and changes on the horizon. After Brexit, we saw spikes in hate crime and far right groups are becoming more organised in Europe. So, there will be more turbulence. Our goals are to ensure that Muslim communities feel confident to be able to report it, campaign and empower themselves to be able to handle and challenge anti-Muslim hatred AND other forms of hatred. Muslims are not an island and hatred affects other communities, though with a significant international focus on Muslims, they need to become self-empowered right now.

VoS: How can local communities and residents from all faiths and none and from different backgrounds come together to help prevent attacks against Muslims – from both within and outside the Muslim community – and as a whole, anyone affected by hate crime?

TM: Simple things can be done through social media activism, ensuring that faith communities and institutions undertake activities together and last but not least: do not fall into the trap of looking like you’re doing a ‘tea, samosas and steel band’ type activities. Whatever is done together should be practical, realistic and impactful – and sometimes challenging.

VoS: Do you have a final message for those who are concerned about the position or place of Muslims in British society or for those attracted to extremist, hateful or far-right rhetoric in any form?

TM: Yes. Muslims are here to stay in Britain and will be here for the next 500 years or more. So, unless we find a way to live together, are we going to hand down a legacy of conflict to our children?

[…]

If you’d like to find out more information, see:

To report an incident of hate crime in the UK:

  • In an emergency, please call 999
  • To report a case to Tell Mama, get in touch via telephone: 0800 456 1226, email: info@tellmama.org, text: 0115 707 0007 or WhatsApp: 07341846086

Acknowledgements and credits:

I’d like to thank Fiyaz for his time and insights and I wish the Tell Mama team all the very best in their work and future endeavours.

Image credits: Steve Snodgrass (feature image)

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Four facts about refugees the media ISN’T telling you…

There’s a lot of talk of refugees in the media at present but rather than presenting facts, what the tabloids present is predominantly anti-refugee rhetoricscaremongering and racist/Islamophobic discourse. As a result, many people are worried about the effect of refugees on their local communities and on a wider international scale.

The following statements represent typical “concerns” of certain sections of British/European society fed by the media:

“They’re claiming thousands of pounds of benefits.”

“It’s safe back home for them.”

“It’s just single young men coming over, never any women or kids.”

“We can’t possibly take anymore – why can’t any other countries take them?”

Sound familiar? Well, here’s four myths the media likes to peddle and the real truth that they’re not telling you:

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Speaks volumes doesn’t it! So, next time someone thinks they’ve got their facts right: set them straight! Embrace diversity, protect human rights and welcome your global brothers and sisters! 🙂

Statistics: UNHCR, The Refugee Council (2015)

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‘In Our World, You’re Either Born With the Right Passport or Not’

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A few weeks ago, French President François Hollande announced the “Calais Jungle” refugee camp would be dismantled, leaving thousands of destitute refugees, including unaccompanied minors, in northern France with nowhere to go. Although many have since been able to submit an asylum claim, it still remains that for months on end these refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea relied on the help of small-scale NGOs and the public, with no assistance from the French government.

Amélie Jacques, a famous French blogger who grew up in Paris and Rome, has lived in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and now resides in Soweto, South Africa. Following the tense situation with refugees in Calais, in a short essay on her blog “Ubuntu” she voiced her concerns about the French government’s harsh policies limiting refugees’ entrance into the country. She also contrasted how easy it is for her to travel with a French passport with how difficult it is for people from other countries: 

No matter whether they’re refugees, asylum seekers, economic migrants, if they’re fleeing war, persecution, or simply looking for a better future … all migrants should be able to come to France and to elsewhere in Europe. There’s no moral reasoning not to allow people to come and live in another country.

My country refuses visa and asylum claims submitted by men, women, and families who come in search of peace, work, and so on, yet nobody’s ever stopped me from crossing the border to go on a family holiday, to study abroad, or even to work. Each time I travel, there are a few formalities — a bit of paperwork, exchanging or paying a few euros, and last of all getting a vaccination — and then it’s off and away! I’ve been able to come and stay for several weeks — up to several years — in England, the United States, Italy, Burkina Faso, Iran, and now South Africa…

What’s this prejudice and inequality based on? French people are no more worthy of rights than other men and women. More than rights, these are privileges. What’s more, such privileges are based on where you’re born because in our world, you’re either born with the right passport or not. Such inequality of rights is devoid of all morality. We either take a step down on the ladder of privilege and confine each person to the country where they were born, or we allow every human being the right to migrate and move out of their own land.

France has long been a nation of immigration with debates surrounding assimilation and secular identity, in particular concerning migrants from former colonial nations such the Maghreb region of Algeria, Morocco and North Africa. However, in the light of the recent refugee crisis, France’s response has been rather poor, unlike its European neighbour Germany.

The French government originally committed to welcoming refugees from Syria, but in practice is not a main recipient of refugees from Syria. The UK and France have in fact been locked in a battle of wills in an attempt to pass off responsibility for welcoming refugees. France maintains that these refugees want to reach the UK, whilst the UK government neither wants to fully open its doors.

As a whole, Europe remains divided on the issue of resettling refugees from war-torn countries, and some members of the European Union continue to express hostility to the idea.

Credits:

This article was first published via Global Voices (08/11/2016)

Images: Kevin Walsh, feature image – CC BY-SA 4.0

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Mapping out Europe: The “ban the burqa” debate rages on

niqab-2Governments across Europe are talking about the “burqa” once again [in other words: banning Islamic face veils such as the niqab and burqa]. Although very few countries have officially banned the burqa in public places, many are starting to discuss taking this step in the future. […] The debate is heating up across Europe.

It’s become inescapable. Not a week passes by in Europe when Islam generally, and Muslims more specifically, are not dissected in the media or discussed in government chambers. One day it’s the strange Slovakian Prime Minister who feels he must  “protect his people” from Muslims. Another day, it’s the abominable Geert Wilders who wants to implement an outright “ban on the Quran” in the Netherlands. Now in France, a shocking report from the Institut Montaigne entitled “A French Islam is possible“, has sparked further tension.

While there is no case law on lip service, the ongoing European debate about Islam and those who practice it has centred in on one tiny piece of the puzzle: a piece of fabric called the niqab, the burka or the full-face veil. It has managed to inflame public opinion each year and has now entered into the legal arsenal of certain member states of the EU. Proof of this has been the unending debate about the “burkini” in France this summer. More recently, a YouGov poll in the UK showed that 57% of Brits interviewed were in favour of the burqa ban. That said, in other European countries, wearing the veil has never been an issue. So, which countries are hotly debating the burqa and which goverments have gone so far as to pass legislation against the burka?

Source: Café Babel – see original article for full interactive map annotations

In a study of Europeans aged 18-34, Generation What? interviewed half a million young people from 30 different countries. Respondents from 17 different countries said that it “did not shock them” to see “women wearing veils in the street or at work.” As only a small majority of respondents, this leaves us with the possibility that Europe may not necessarily become more tolerant of the burqa in the future.

Credits:

Article written by Matthieu Amaré and translated by Charlotte Walmsley (FR > ENG)

Image credits: Hani Amir (Flickr) (feature image), John Alcorn

This article was first published on  Café Babel (26/09/2016)

Laïcité of lies – Laïcité à la française is not secularism

There has been a lot in the news the past week about France, its so-called “secular policy” and a recent ban on burkinis in Cannes. This is yet another example of an Islamophobic, discriminatory ideology that is not secular in any sense in relation to freedom, justice and democracy – three words it is usually described and presented in relation to.

Let’s have a look at what secularism is supposed to be. According to the Oxford dictionary, secularism is defined as:

The principle of separation of the state from religious institutions‘he believes that secularism means no discrimination against anybody in the name of religion

Now, as a translator, I usually refuse to translate France’s policy of laïcité to “secularism” when translating into English. No, this is not a political bias as a translator – it is simply the truth. Laïcité is a whole different political policy of its own and not what we in Anglophone countries equate with secularism. There is a key core ideological difference:

  • Secularism: non-discrimination, the lack of political power/influence over one’s religion and vice versa
  • Laïcité: not simply separating state and politics. This principle is the banning of religion from the public sphere, in all senses. “Privatising” personal religion and refusing to acknowledge/understand religious identity/belonging.

I always compare it to being more of “State atheism” – but of course with a Catholic bias in the case of France. I spent six years at university studying – amongst other things – French language, culture, politics and aditionally human rights. Before even becoming a Muslim, I was convinced that France was Islamophobic. Before marrying an Algerian… Before the new line of laws which just keep hitting Muslims… Before the ever worsening regression of religious freedom and increase in Islamophobic politics…

In order to keep this short, just consider these examples of the treatment of religious communities – essentially affecting largely Muslim women and girls  – and see if this sounds like secularism, freedom, democracy and justice

1. Banning burkinis on the beach for unfounded reasons of “hygiene”, “safety” and “secularism” (see here and here) which essentially rules out swimming for a groups of (Muslim) women like myself (Cannes – I won’t be visiting next summer by the way!)

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Image: Elizabeth Arif-Fear (c)

2. Banning facial coverings (niqabs, burqas) – meaning innocent Muslim women cannot wear face veils unless they want to face a fine and/or imprisonment (see here)

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Image credit: Khalid Albaih

3. Banning “conspicuous” religious symbols in schools such as headscarves and for those “delivering a public service”, which means either removing your kippa, Sikh turban or hijab or removing yourself from the Republican sphere;  i.e. be taught at home, work from home or go to a Muslim/Islamic school (see here and here)

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Image credit: Vincent Albanese

This is the model that Turkey used to base its headscarf policy on. I myself have direct experience of this having being informed I could not teach in my headscarf when I applied for a teaching post. I therefore withdraw my application. Fortunately things seem to have changed in Turkey. Clearly, I was out to indoctrinate the students during English class by being myself whilst teaching girls who they themselves had the right to cover their heads and were Muslim… Glad to see, things have changed a little in Turkey at least!

Things have become so extreme in France, that a young Muslim girl was recently told that her maxi skirt was “too religious”, resulting in her being banned from the school.

Now just ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this sound like non-discrimination?
  • Does this sound like freedom?
  • Does this sound fair?
  • Does this sound rational?

For me, that’s a big, fat NO! It must be said:

France: laïcité is not secularism! Please stop pretending your République functions for the benefit of the people according to liberté, égalité et fraternité. It doesn’t! What it is is:

neo-colonial, intolerant,

Islamophobic, hypocritical and nothing less!

Salam!

Credits:

Feature image: Lisecher

What has the European Convention on Human Rights ever done for us?

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Image credit: Rich Girard

On June 23rd the British public voted to leave the European Union. This came as a shock for many of us. It also brings to light a series of further questions: What about free movement? What about trade? What will happen to EU citizens already in the UK? What about the European Convention on Human Rights?

As a member of the Council of Europe, the UK is bound to the The European Convention on Human Rights. The EU and the Council of Europe are two different bodies. Phew, what a relief many of us might be inclined to think.

However, and this is the butlawyers fear what the future holds post-Brexit regarding the ECHR and Britain. There has been talk about pulling out and adopting a British Bill of Rights. The Human Rights Act (1998) – which the British government have been looking at scrapping for a long time – is the partial incorporation of the ECHR into domestic law and ideas are based on replacing this with this potential British Bill of Rights (see here for full details). We quite rightly should be worried. Theresa May – the new British PM – when working as Home Secretary prior to the referendum on leaving the EU stated the following:

It isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court

This is very shocking indeed. The ECHR is an important, powerful instrument which I often feel is undervalued by the British public and is clearly undermined by British politicians. Human rights are being eroded in the UK. Those affected include disabled citizens, “Skype families” of mixed EU and non-EU families being forced to live apart and those on low incomes and benefits. It is time to get vocal and stand up for the ECHR.

I was shown a fantastic sketch made by The Guardian starring Patrick Stewart, which I urge you to watch entitled: What has the ECHR ever done for us?” Well, that’s a good question. You can check out the video below for the answer:

So, what has the ECHR ever done for us? Well, a lot and we need it!

Here are 20 rights it enshrines; rights which offer us freedom, hope and equality:

1. The right to life

2. Freedom from torture

3. Freedom from slavery and forced labour

4. The right to liberty and security

5. The right to a fair trial

6. Punishment to be enforced only by law

7. The right to respect for private and family life

8. Freedom of thought, conscience of religion

9. Freedom of expression

10. Freedom of assembly and association

11. The right to marry

12. The right to an effective remedy

13. Freedom from discrimination

14. The right to education

15. The right to free elections

16. Prohibition of imprisonment for debt

17. Freedom of movement

18. Prohibition of expulsions of nationals

19. The right of appeal in criminal matters

20. Compensation for wrongful convictions

So, spread the word and let’s raise the profile of support for the Human Rights Act and the ECHR. Sign and share the following petition and blog and tweet away!

Salam!

Credits:

Feature image: Portal gda

Donations needed for Calais!

Stop The War Coalition along with Stand up to Racism, People’s Assembly Against Austerity, War on Want, Unite the Union, Communications Workers Union, Momentum and the Muslim Association of Britain are collecting donations and looking for volunteers for their Convoy to Calais. They are leaving next weekend.

Priority needs include: food (fresh, tinned and dried), men and teenage boys’ clothing, hygiene items and certain women’s items.

A full list is available via the PDF link below:

Convoy Donation List (please also read the sorting guidelines)

Fore more details about the convoy including the timetable and link to register click here. You can also download their leaflet here.

Salam!

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Image credit: Malachy Browne (Flickr)