Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Nine years on from 7/7 bombings, is UK ready for the global jihad threat?

Monday sees the ninth anniversary of the bombings in London that shook the UK to the core. Known as the 7/7 attacks, they raised for the first time the prospect of home-grown British terrorism. Now, the country is faced with another global jihadi threat. How is the West - and Britain in particular - going to deal with it? VoR’s Brendan Cole hosts a debate.

While western leaders look at how to grapple with the rising threat of the group Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIS, in Britain fears are growing that the terror that ISIS is wreaking across Iraq and Syria could find its way back to these shores.

Added into the mix are the investigations by Ofsted and the Department for Education targeted five schools in the inner city with largely Muslim pupils, placing them in special measures.

Four of the schools are academies and are likely to be handed over to new management by the Department for Education early next month.

To discuss this VoR’s Brendan Cole is joined in the studio by

Dr Brooke RogersReader in Risk and Terror at King's College London

Reyhana Pateljournalist, writer and researcher specialising in issues concerning Muslim communities

Myriam Francois-Cerrahjournalist and broadcaster.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

NUS condemns 'anti-Islam' group Student Rights










Despite the growing anti-Islam sentiment across the country, British students are coming together to fight Islamophobia


In a move that will be welcomed by many, the National Union of Students (NUS) yesterday passed a motion condemning the activities of the increasingly controversial group Student Rights.

The decision comes as a result of resolutions passed at seven student union branches across Britain calling for a public condemnation of the group, due to what they see as its gratuitously hostile targeting of Muslim students.

Student Rights, which was launched in 2009 to tackle extremism on university campuses, and has links with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, whose associate director Douglas Murray infamously remarked that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.

Since its establishment, its critics say, Student Rights has attempted to discredit student Islamic societies across the country by publishing sensationalist and misleading claims about extremism on campus. The union at the London School of Economics, for example, argues that a 2013 report published by the group on gender segregation at Muslim student events failed to determine whether segregation was enforced or voluntary. Instead, they say, the report presented sought to present segregation as "part of a wider discriminatory trend" on campuses, resulting in the mainstream media following their lead and associating gender segregation with extremism.

Yesterday’s condemnation could be an important step in isolating the group and delegitimising some of its more aggressive claims. It means that universities across the country will be cautious before engaging with the group and offering them a platform – which, ironically, is exactly what Student Rights was hoping to achieve with Islamic societies.

Hillary Aked, who has been campaigning for such a move through counter-group The Real Student Rights, said: “This vote shows that Student Rights - despite their name - have no right to claim to be defending or representing students who in fact view them as a damaging force, marginalising Muslim students on campus and stigmatising them in the press. It raises big questions about why the Henry Jackson Society wants to monitor British campuses, and why the media gives them a platform. It also shows that students are challenging discourses about 'extremism on campus' with mature intersectional campaigns.”

Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students' Officer, also outlined his views on yesterday’s resolution saying: "Student Rights are not a legitimate organisation, with a total lack of transparency and have been the source of many sensationalist stories demonising Muslims. The NUS condemning them will hopefully put an end to this toxic organisation."

A spokesman for Student Rights said: "This decision by the NUS is very disappointing for us. I don't think universities will disengage with us - we are committed to continuing our work on tackling all forms of extremism on campus, and will continue to do so despite this latest ruling."

As someone who has been involved with student Islamic societies over the last few years, I’ve been at the receiving end of Students Rights’ campaigns and seen first-hand the fear-mongering, alienation and mistrust it has created around the Muslim community in Britain.

At a time where almost every aspect of Muslim life - from the niqab to halal meat – is often treated in as sensational a manner as possible, this NUS decision will be welcomed by many well-being British students. It will also happily serve to increase their general trust and commitment to democracy and union politics - which are both proving to be potent forces against hate campaigns and Islamophobia on UK campuses.

 Published by The Independent  You can read it here

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
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Thursday, 17 April 2014

UK uses health workers in counter-terror plan

I took part in this feature by Matthew Cassel on AlJazeera English:

Al Jazeera's Matthew Cassel reports on the Prevent programme from Birmingham 

Medical workers, most would agree, have one important job to do: look after the well-being of their patients. However, in the UK, employees of the National Health Service are now being assigned another task: identifying potential terrorists. 

This new directive comes from the Prevent programme, part of the UK government's counter-terrorism strategy created in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings.

As part of this mission, since last year Prevent has been providing mandatory training to employees of the National Health Service (NHS) on how to identify potential terrorists among patients, visitors and other medical staff, and report them to the authorities. 

Documents given by Prevent to medical workers, copies of which were obtained by Al Jazeera, say the following: "The NHS has been identified as a key player in supporting the Prevent strategy as healthcare staff are considered to be well placed to help to identify concerns and protect people from radicalisation." 

'Government informants'

Al Jazeera spoke to a nurse working for the NHS on condition of anonymity because she was not permitted to talk to the media. (Al Jazeera also learned of similar Prevent training being offered to educators, firefighters and others in the public sector; however, none agreed to discuss the training on record.)

"The healthcare worker's job is to ultimately treat your patient," the nurse said. "It doesn't matter what they walk in the door with - you, as a healthcare professional within whatever specialty you work, you've been trained to support them." 
The nurse was concerned by the vague characteristics presented as indicators of possible radicalisation. One of the Prevent documents listed factors such as "identity crisis", "personal crisis" and "unemployment" that could make someone vulnerable to radicalisation. 

The document also listed political views that NHS staff should look out for, such as a "rejection of UK foreign policy", "mistrust of Western media", and "perceptions that UK government policy is discriminatory [eg counter-terrorist legislation]".

The nurse said trainers were careful to avoid mentioning Muslims. However, medical staff were told that the main terrorist threat to the UK comes from Islamist groups, and the violent acts mentioned were mostly incidents perpetrated by Muslims.

She added that identifying potential terrorists was not part of her job as a health worker. "It's actually something that the police should be doing," she said. "Offering this training, it's almost as if we're becoming government informants."

Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester and national lead for Prevent's police programme, confirmed to Al Jazeera that medical workers and other civil servants were being given counter-terrorism training. 

"If there are health professionals who have serious concerns that the person they're dealing with is getting involved in extremist activity and that is harming their well-being and harming their community, then yes, absolutely, it's about them being able to raise those concerns," Sir Fahy said. "Clearly, there is a significant terrorist threat to this country. We can understand that people can feel very strongly about international issues and other political issues, and it's trying to identify people who may be at risk of taking that concern to a level of violence."

On its website, Prevent says it seeks to tackle terrorist threats wherever they occur. However, it also says that the "most serious is from al-Qaeda, its affiliates and like-minded organisations". With the overwhelming majority of Prevent's efforts focused on British Muslims, many in the minority community believe they are being unfairly targeted. 

Sir Fahy acknowledged the grievance, and said he hopes to address complaints by making Prevent's efforts more transparent to the public. "It's really about how we... confront the threat of terrorism, but at the same time maintaining the confidence of the Muslim community as we go along."

Lost confidence 
But that confidence may already be lost. Jahan Mahmood, a historian and former adviser to the government's counter-terrorism unit, said that while Prevent mentions possible extremism from a range of groups, "there is a disproportionate focus on Muslims, there is no doubt about that. And that's also one of the reasons it's failed to gain traction with the Muslim population".

In Birmingham's predominantly Muslim Sparkbrook neighbourhood, Mahmood pointed above his head to lampposts where in 2010, the government installed hundreds of surveillance cameras - ostensibly for monitoring crime in the area.

But it was soon exposed that the counter-terrorism unit installed the cameras to monitor residents. After an outcry from the Muslim community, bags were placed on top of the cameras and they were eventually removed, with authorities assuring that they had never been turned on. 
Mahmood said the incident led to a serious breakdown of trust between Muslims and the police. Al Jazeera spoke to a number of British Muslims in cities like Birmingham and Manchester, who said they believe Prevent and other counter-terrorism efforts are less about preventing violence than about monitoring every aspect of Muslim life. This has left many in the community feeling alienated from the rest of British society.

But Mahmood warned that it's not only British Muslims who should be concerned over the government's counter-terrorism laws and programmes like Prevent. 

In recent years, Mahmood said: "We've seen draconian legislation introduced - and that means we are surrendering our civil liberties. Where will this end? The rest of Britain needs to wake up to the fact that we are sleep-walking ourselves into very serious times."

 Read full article on Aljazeera:

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Gender Segregation at Student Islamic Societies

I took part in a debate on BBC Radio 4's Woman's hour on the issue of gender separated events at universities in the UK:

You can watch it here (skip to 33 minutes):

OR check out the YouTube version:

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Domestic Crusaders: Review

Ever wondered what happens at a gathering of American Pakistani families? Then you must head to London to catch The Domestic Crusaders-a play about immigrant Muslims living in the American suburbs.

Written by Wajahat Ali in the after-math of the 9/11 attacks and debuting in 2006, the play made a sensational hit in America by aiming to remove the stereotypes associated with American Muslims-similar to what TLC's reality TV show, All American Muslim ,intended to achieve. Now the play comes to London, open to the British public and hosted by the Tara theatre on until 11th October. 

The play centres around three generations of an American Muslim family get-together to celebrate the 21st birthday of their youngest son Ghafur. It portrays a day in the life of a Muslim Pakistani-American family in a post 9/11 era, bringing together the varied personalities we see today within the Muslim community -not only in America but also other parts of the world. 

These personalities are shown through six electrifying characters -A grandfather and a retired Pakistani army officer, a middle aged son who wants to become an Islamic teacher rather than a doctor his parents had dreamed of, Fatima, the activist and lawyer daughter who believes in civil liberties and was once arrested for protesting. A successful businessman more Americanised than Pakistani plays the eldest son, and Salman and Khulsoom are the typical Pakistani parents wanting the American dream for their children. 

For me, I could relate to almost every aspect of the play. The dialogue between Fatima and her mother reminded me of conversations I have with my mother (excluding the constant reminder of being arrested) around marriage, activism and independence of Muslim women. The dialogue and humour mixed in with religion made it sound almost as if it was one of my own family birthday dinners-substituting the Pakistani references for Indian of course. 

The Domestic Crusaders also highlights some of the political challenges American and British Muslims are struggling with in a post 9/11 era-specifically around the media and Islam. Throughout the play, we witness sound bites of the media's negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims-a difficult task Muslims across the world are struggling to counter. The introduction of Salman to the play holding a newspaper and complaining about the media is a simple portrayal of the gravity of the issue. 

Though the play is centred on an American Muslim family, it also relates to Muslims in Britain. What was really refreshing was the construction of a Pakistani-American identity rather than a generic American Muslim one. Applying this to Muslims in Britain, we are too often bombarded with narratives of integrating into society and ‘Britishness’, with the term ‘British Muslim’ being used to identify oneself as adhering to British values. This celebration of Pakistani identity is completely refreshing and rejoices immigrant communities in America. 

Creating dialogue through the arts can be a powerful tool in bridging the gap between communities. Here in Britain, it is no secret that Islamophobia is on the rise. In March 2013, a Muslim helpline set up to tackle Islamophobia logged over 630 anti-Islam incidents over a 12 month period-58% of them involving women. And recently, figures released by the Metropolitan police showed a 92% increment in Islamophobic hate crimes between August 2012 and August 2013. Initiatives such as Wajahat Ali's Domestic Crusaders can be a very powerful tool in creating education and awareness about Islam and Muslims in Britain. The portrayal of domestic challenges humanises Muslims by showing the same problems afflict families across all cultures.

The only downfall to the Domestic Crusaders is that it is only playing in London, which means only a few people will have the opportunity to see it. However, the trip and £27.50 return from Birmingham to London was well worth it for me. A must see for all those ever wanting to know "what Muslims living in the west think" or "how immigrant communities live."

Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Follow Reyhana Patel on Twitter: 

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Niqab veil is the 'woman's choice' - Today Programme debate

I took part in the Today Programme debate on the Niqab. You can listen here:

21 September 2013 Last updated at 09:43 BST 

The Muslim face veil, Niqab, has been prominent in the news of late.
Firstly there was a court ruling over whether a defendant could wear it in court or not, a home office minister calling for a national debate, and now there is to be a review into whether NHS staff in England, should be allowed to wear full face veils. 

There has also been a U-turn last week by a college in Birmingham, which first banned the Niqab, and then after pressure from students, changed its mind. 

The Today programme's Zubeida Malik met a group of British Muslim women to discuss the issues raised, and what they really think of the Niqab. 

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday 21 September 2013. Listen here