Saturday, 30 March 2013

UK welfare system: a security at dignity’s expense?

Next week will see start of a new welfare regime - perhaps the most serious in the history of our welfare state. Much talked about is the issue of “bedroom tax”. But the question that has been haunting me for some time is “is our welfare system a security that we get at the expense of our dignity?”

UK has a fine history. No I am not unmindful of the turbulence and evils that has crept up on many occasions over the centuries. But broadly speaking, of all the developed nations, our UK society and system is a lot more robust, accommodative and tolerant. Our welfare state, borne out of a concern for the society’s needy, is a genuine arrangement to ensure dignity for all. The recent debate, however, seems to undermine this notion.

For months, if not years now, a section of powerful politicians together with their media and “civil society” partners were arguing that our welfare system undermines the hard working, struggling middle class. There were talks, passionate assertions, that for many welfare dependency is a lifestyle choice. For me, I found these arguments disgusting, disingenuous and ultimately distressing.

No doubt, our welfare bill is too high and at times of austerity, perhaps too large to sustain. But our welfare state does not provide a lifestyle of luxury or even relative ease for the beneficiaries. Much of the benefit system, as I understood it, was designed to ensure a minimum standard of living for everyone. The principle was that in 21 Century UK no one should be forced to live below a certain level. A laudable and indeed admirable aim.

What the notion meant is that if you did not work, state would provide support to ensure you are able to lead life at that level, if you are working but your salaries are not sufficient to adequately maintain yourself and family, state will step in to fill the gap. If, on the other hand, you earn enough to have adequate level of lifestyle, state will leave you to fend for yourself. This addresses several misleading notions that has been created - that only those out of work or employment are eligible to benefits. Nothing is more untrue than this. For example, majority of the people who claim housing benefits are not unemployed. In London for example, your household income could be as high as £30k per annum, and depending which part of London you live and how large your family, you may still receive housing benefits. This is in recognition that whilst 30k salary may be higher than average, it is still not sufficient to ensure adequate accommodation for many in London given the costly housing market - both rental and buying.

If the government proposals and the changes that are coming are true to the message given by the ministers, it is hardly believable that benefit for working people will increase. What appears to be the case is that benefit paid to the lowest, most vulnerable in our society will see a real time and significant reduction in their income. Housing benefit caps and now the bedroom tax will do precisely the same. Whilst, at simplistic level, this make sense, sadly, it puts us as a nation to shame. We appear to be saying that as a nation that led the light of civilisation for centuries will noW backtrack on the dignity we historically afforded to our poor, vulnerable and voids. We are saying that no matter how inhumane, if you are unable to work and earn your own living, you have to accept an inhumane and inadequate living. The fact that it is inhumane is just tough luck. We seem to disregard the need for protecting dignity of those who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being at the mercy of the state. We seem to be shutting the doors of possibility to children being raised and being born to those families.

It seems, our politics and politicians are taking us back through to a journey where Britain shall only afford dignity to those who have and not to those who have not. We it seems are becoming a nation of oiling the riches and condemning the society’s vulnerable. A sad thought indeed.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Accept to be bullied, we’ll support you! So says our William Hague to the Palestinians

Israel-Palestine is perhaps the longest running and the most significant of International Conflicts of our time. Not only Middle East peace and stability depends on it, world peace, prosperity and stability rests on an amicable solution to the Middle East problem too. From the global super-power, the United States of America (USA) to Europe, Russia and other regional powers are equally involved. In fact, probably no other conflict has ever raised so much emotion as does this.

With Palestinians set to move for greater recognition and topping their status at the UN, certainly global powers, like the UK, is keen not to be seen to be on the wrong side. In desperate move, therefore, they push to save face with their ally, Israel, while maintain their influence over others. But the bottom line is, Israel has shown to be a blood thirsty aggressor with little regard for international law. As recently as early this month, we have seen yet again the eagerness on Israel’s part to wipe out an entire nation that is already under siege. Irony is, when the some self-appointed leaders of the world justify Israel’s heavy-handedness citing that Israel is under an existential threat from her neighbours, what they overlook, and I say deliberately, is that only Israel of any states in the modern time have demonstrated consistent willingness to subjugate neighbouring states, threatened their viability and deliberately obstruct their emergence as Independent nations though they have those rights at international law.

Coming back to my heading, I was ashamed, as a British Citizen, to see our Foreign Secretary, Mr William Hague, to come up with this most absurd line of reasoning – provide guarantee to return to negotiations unconditionally and assurance that you [Palestine] will not seek to extend Jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) – and we [UK] will support you. Shame that despite our claim to be a nation of values, justice and fairness, our Mr Hague adopts the most unjust, unfair and irrational line. When ever you have seen justice requiring the oppressed providing guarantees?

I am afraid, my emotions like millions of other people, rise fast when it comes to Israel-Palestine/Middle East Conflict issue. But I shall refrain from making it too long. Let recite though this – Islamists are enemies of west, so we have heard, therefore prevent them from coming to power. But today, North Africa is ruled by the so called Islamists. West is keen to be in bed with them. We heard, Hamas was terrorist, so strangle them, but they are thriving, once PLO was terrorist organisation so was Mandela and his ANC. But justice may take longer to emerge victorious, but it certainly is the ultimate victor. Palestinians have a just cause and a rightful claim for which they have paid heavy price. Make no mistake, some day they will emerge as an Independent, viable and proud nation. Question is, are we ready to be on the part of justice or not? For Israel, the question is even more significant – Is Israel ready to accept a just settlement to the Palestinian cause or is it going to continue acting in its self-destruction? Only time will tell who ultimately has the wisdom to make the right, just and fair choice!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Death of US Ambassador in Libya must not be met by knee-jerk response

Controversy over a film allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad (peace by upon him) sparked demonstrations most notably in Egypt, Libya and Yemen. In Egypt, the demonstrators stormed into the US Embassy but no casualty, while in Benghazi in Libya, the demonstrators fired rockets into the US Embassy killing, among others, the US Ambassador to Libya. Both these incidents are utterly disgraceful, wholly unnecessary, outrageous and must be condemned in the strongest terms. The respective governments of Egypt and Libya must also take responsibility for failing to understand the mood of their respective population, or rather a segment of their population and putting in place adequate measures to ensure security of the diplomatic establishments.
When I first flagged a news item on Facebook with my status indicating my disapproval of the storming of Egyptian Embassy, I was told that I was being na├»ve and not sufficiently understanding the hurt caused. Do not get me wrong, in recent years there seems to be an escalation – deliberate in my view – of materials designed to offend, insult, humiliate, provoke, outrage and incite anger among the world’s Muslim population. Too often, Western governments have put a blind eye and regularly defending such actions as necessary and essential in democratic society in the name of freedom of speech, thoughts and expressions. But the truth, as we all know, is that Islam and Muslims have been dominating the global airwaves in media, politics and international relations. Most of the time they are given airwave for the wrong reasons. Due to naivety, ignorance and often prejudice of many leading global media establishments – none, it’s worth noting, are driven and inspired by Islamic faith – put up coverage which are at best flawed, insensitive and often insulting. Take the Channel 4, the British Broadcasting organisation, who recently aired a “documentary” which questions the very historic foundations of Islam. While we ought to respect the right of creative minds to speculate, a documentary must be a documentary based on evidence, reason and logic. Unfortunately, the program on Channel4 lacked all of it. This shoddy, irresponsible, half-cooked mockery of history will not be tolerated about any other religion and particularly of the Jewish religion. Yet, this is normal when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Moreover, it appears clear that the broadcaster now cancelled the screening of further work on the series citing security threats received without providing any specifics or obtaining Police Advise. It seems not unreasonable to at least suspect that Channel 4 is capitalising on the prevailing anti-Muslim hatred and is fuelling such hatred for its own ego, commercial or other gains.
Therefore, let me be very clear – Freedom of expression should not and must never be an instrument or a cover for bigoted, prejudicial and phobic mind to insult, humiliate, undermine or otherwise cause hurt in the minds of people simply because of the faith they are associated with. Such action is utterly condemnable.
Does this mean that people can be so outraged that they may storm Embassies and kill diplomatic stuff? Of course not. Violating diplomatic establishment is a violation of international law and is also a violation of Islamic values, spirit and practice. What has happened in Benghazi and previously in Egypt are wrong and a disgrace no matter how sincere and innocent the motive behind the demonstrators were.
The question then is, what should the response be to such horrific development? Brining killers to justice, making those violating diplomatic premises account for their wrong action and learning lesson to ensure such incident can never happen again are right things to do. The two governments involved are relatively new and are still finding grounds beneath their feet. Understandable, that they may have lacked the right capacity, mettle and expertise to pre-empt the situation or to contain it. However, lesson must be learnt and this must never be allowed to happen again.
It must also be said that while the acts of violence are inexcusable, this must not be used to undo the changes that has taken place in the Middle East. This should not impede the development of closer relationship between parties in the Middle East. It is encouraging to see that President Obama strikes, broadly speaking, a conciliatory, measured and wise tone. That indeed is the right way. However, to conclude that this shows the danger the “Islamists” presents, and that a Western style secular government is the answer and therefore set up programs to achieve this is wrong and will be counterproductive. In the instance matter, there will be temptations to wrap up sooner, kill a few more, perhaps use the unmanned spy planes to locate and assassinate suspect will be completely the wrong thing to do.
Our hope is that newly liberated societies understand that freedom has a price and that to uphold freedom they need to pay a premium which often is restrain, calm and measured expression of anger. No matter how outraged we feel, we must learn to reflect, ponder and strategies. The purpose of anyone’s response in the circumstances must be to address the problem, bring about solutions with very little interruption.
We hope that restrain prevails and that parties find an amicable solution.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Problems Facing Muslim Nations

I was lured into reading an article by its name, “The Problems Facing Muslim Nations”, published at the Arab News, a leading English Daily in Saudi Arabia. I thought perhaps a person with insight of the Muslim Countries’ affairs would shed light on identifying key factors adversely affecting growth, prosperity, pluralism and good governance within the Muslim land. However, I was disappointed. In fact, disappointment perhaps is an understatement. The author not only failed to grasp the challenges facing the Muslim nations, his analysis of the issues are frankly demeaning, dispiriting and devoid of realism.
In brief, the piece identified five issues – education framework not fit for purpose; our obsessions with the past; like for abstract at the expense of concrete; obsession with angels, demons, God and satan and finally, lame and illogical dislike for arts.
When one read the article and the five factors identified, it becomes apparent that the writer feels that the Islamic faith as it is practiced by the most is responsible for much of the backwardness, irrationality, illogicality and superficiality. He feels that much of our nations’ adherence to the faith is blind, literal and therefore not rational and logical. Of course, he was at pain to stress that Islamic faith need not to be blamed, and no harm can arise from study of faith but it just needs not to be at the expense of others.
For a start, the author fails to understand the Muslim nations even on the basics. While Saudi Arabia, presumably the country of the Author and may be Iran, are the only two exceptions where faith may have some kind of dominance in the governance of the state. Countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey, nations with most Muslim population, enjoy a political culture and class in which faith has very little direct and visible effect. People with real authority and power who has been dominating policy making and state operation are predominantly western educated, secular minded and often with little visible devotion to faith. Why then have they not adopted the curriculum, created the context for recognition of the present as oppose to dwelling in the past? As for the love of arts, we know that many of these governments had almost irrational degree of love for art – music, film, fine art etc. There is also no evidence to suggest that these governments were threatened by the “religiou fanatics” to the extent that they had to compromise in their policy making. Other than in Afghanistan, none of the other nations had much rational fear of being ransomed by religious fanatics.
The argument thus that faith and a blind obsession with it is at the heart of our demise is nothing but an irrational, illogical assertion without factual and evidential basis. Further, it serves to the prevailing global policy to scapegoat faith, and in particular Islam. It also overlooks the reality on the ground.
Now that it is clear I disagree with the piece, what then are the issues with Muslim nations? Well this is too big a question to be answered in one article by a small individual like me. However, I shall seek to briefly identify several factors that I think are important.
Firstly, education curriculum, practice and framework in our countries are a problem and no, not because of their obsession with religion, far from it. The problem at the heart of our educational systems are two fold – firstly the lack of a conceptual basis which does not provide a vision behind our educational strategies and secondly, and perhaps as a consequent of the first, that our education’s emphasis is not on analytical, critical and intellectual development of the students. Curriculum in most Muslim countries seems to emphasise on recollection, memorisation and not on critical evaluation, analysis and problem solving. This is true of the science, arts and religious curriculum. Shockingly, this is true at all level of education – primary to the university level.
The second challenge in the Muslim countries is a lack of culture to debate competing ideas. Muslim countries are notoriously polarised along political and ideological lines - whichever ideology we hold dear, we reject the notion that others are also entitled to hold their own ideology. As a result, the secular minded rejects any notion that faith and those with an ideology inspired by faith has a stake in the affairs of the state and vice versa.
Third and final issue that I would highlight is the lack of patronage of religion by the state. I know some will find it surprising and many may well see that it is the opposite. But that is not so. Yes, there are states that provide huge funds and influence to religious institutions and scholars. But my point is that state should take a pro-active role in creating an environment in which scholars, students and public take an active interest in exploring faith in its totality, engage in debates and open discussions where difference is respected, celebrated and not condemned. That will only happen if states provide patronage to research based on religion which seek to explore finding answers to modern questions that Muslims and non-Muslims alike are facing. This will create a level playing field in which dogmatic, literalist and traditionalist scholars will not dominate exclusively the sphere of religious decision making.
But at the heart of all the above must be a realisation that faith, as a separate, independent and parallel entity to daily life cannot exists and must not exist. From an Islamic perspective, faith is intertwined with a person’s belief, action and though process. Attempt to separate state from religion, Islam from life, is an artificial separation which will only create confusion, chaos and often disunity. The question that ought to be at the top of our mind-set is how we can be true to our faith while embrace the spirit of innovation, creativity, objectivity and pluralism. After all, Islam has championed these values for centuries while the present western civilisation was in darkness.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Thirst for Freedom has sparked....Egypt has spoken

Only days earlier the world observed the momentous revolution unfold in Tunisia ending the iron rule of Ben Ali, one of the cruelest dictators of our time. The people of Tunisia made history through their sacrifice to achieve freedom. The world was ecstatic, celebrating embracing the Tunisian outcome. Joy and happiness caused tears in many eyes; people simply were amazed and overwhelmed.
Young souls like mine have seen no revolution in our life time, not one which made an impact. Tunisia was enough to quench our thirst for excitement to see people in thousands march for freedom and to break the shackles of oppression. We had it in Tunisia, we were over the top. But God had different plans; he had more than Tunisia in mind. Soon after Ben Ali fled, people in Egypt rose to the challenge to attain freedom. They gathered in their fitting Liberation Square. They chanted, laid before the barrels their lives, bloods shed but they did not waiver, they stood firm.
In Egypt now a revolution unfolding: ordinary men and women, children and elderly all took to the street defying the gas, gun, tanks and fighter jets. The harsher the dictator’s organs roared the louder the people chanted: Go Mubarak Go, leave Mubarak leave and so forth. They have shown their determination and courage, they continue to strive for freedom. And no doubt, the freedom shall come and the people will prevail over the ill fated Mubarak’s monstrous regime.
But it seems just as the people rise, just as the spirit is up and just as we begin to experience euphoric push for freedom, there are those busy creating divisions and sensing conspiracies. The ‘world leaders’ from Washington to London and beyond, the rulers fail to see the goodwill of people and their desire for freedom. They struggle to speak for truth, justice and fairness; they struggle to say enough is enough to the dictators.
Saddam was kicked out wasting our money, lives and resources in defiance of long established laws. Yet event today we see the warmongers justifying their criminal acts using the cause of freedom. Yet why isn’t the regimes in Washington, London and beyond able to say publicly “Mubarak, we think your time is over, you must leave, leave now?”
As the sun begins to tilt toward west, marking the beginning of the end of yet another day, let us pray that it will return after darkness, let us pray that the sun rising tomorrow in Egypt, over the beautiful Read Sea and the amazing river Nile, it will whisper Egypt, congratulations, you are now free, you have freedom.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Some events, thoughts on the year about to end!

It's been long many weeks, perhaps months, since I last blogged here. Not that I lost interest, nor is it because I have little to write neither is it that I wish no more to write. In fact, never more than the last few months have I felt more willing and urge to write, to blog and share thoughts. Unfortunately though, life had many twists, many surprises and many "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns" which necessarily kept me busy to the extent that despite increasing sense of urge I seldom had time to surf these pages, to populate them.

But as the year 2010 draws to an end, I could not but resist the temptation to write here. So I look back at some events/incidents/experiences which will have profound impact in defining me.

I enlist some key events and will seek to write something about each one of them though not necessarily today:
July 16, 2010 finally started working in the field of Law
July 21, 2010 - left Birmingham to settle for now in London
August (can't remember precise date: I knows its a shame) appeared for the first time as advocate (well rather as legal rep)
October 3, 2010 - made chair of the Membership Committee of the MCB
November (can't remember exact date but I think 12) - first TV appearance for MCB
November 16, 2010 - key note address at a conference in the Commons on Prevent
November 30, 2010 - call to the bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn
December 11, 2010 - Key note address at an Islamophobia Conference
December 21, 2010 - First meeting of the membership committee under my chairmanship
Some of the above of course would sound trivial to some of you, but each one of these has important and profound meaning to me for reasons which will become apparent to you all soon. But now, sadly, I am called and must leave the net. S many be a little later, may be tomorrow or next week I will begin to write about each one aforementioned.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Israel's cruelty unleashed on board freedom flotilla will embolden the peace Movement

This morning we woke up to hear that Israeli invaded Freedom Flotilla, a convey of ships carrying aid to Gaza, a besieged nation in Palestine. As many as 19 people are reported to have been killed and dozens other are injured. The convoy was 90 miles away from Gaza and were on international water when in the darkness of early morning the Israeli forces landed on board the ships from helicopter.

Reaction from the International community has been rather slow and insufficient though Turkey called summoned Israeli Ambassador in Ankara and called for an emergency UN meeting, Greece cancelled her joint military exercise with Israel, Germany and France condemned the Israeli act while EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner called on Israel to open all of Gaza's borders to allow necessary and essential aid.

The media, though slow but are now surely covering the event with BBC firing some probing questions on the Israeli Officials. Although notably little representation of the Peace Movements involved are aired other than their press statement.

19 brave men and women may have died, their convey did not reach the Gazan shore and International Community did not show the sense of outrage it ought to have shown. However, the determined and conscientious people on board Freedom Flotilla and all those who supported the preparation and launch of this great initiative can and must take satisfaction that their objective is not fully suppressed. Israel looks visibly shaken by the event and are struggling to answer for their actions. US-British government though remained largely silent, there will be intense pressure on both these governments to do something about the blockade. The people of both these nations are in solidarity with the pain and suffering of the Palestinians and will be even more so after today. Only last week we have seen Michael Mansfield QC, a leading lawyer of our country, writing in the Guardian calling for some tough actions from the UK Government.

Israel has acted in gross violation of International Law, brutally killed 19 noble and brave souls, maintain the death trap on Gaza, stood firm on its commitment to create worlds largest open prison and living recreation of Nazi Concentration Camp and provoked anger in the minds of millions, brutally killed. It has not met the necessary response yet, one it so badly deserves. But, the coverage of its shameless invasion and blood thirsty attitude towards those on board Freedom Flotilla will undermine its strength and standing at home and abroad greatly.

Heinous Israeli act will strengthen the resolve of all those fighting for justice and freedom for the Palestinians and will be embolden to commit to more Freedom Flotilla like actions.