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This is a guest post from Alex Stein of

And perhaps Murderers, depending on how the IDF responds to this. This is despicable.

עכשיו כל חייל שותף לרצח

Obama and Chavez: the handshake

There’s been something of a tempest in a teapot (to use the American equivalent of the dreaded-by-Harry’s-Place-readers “storm in a teacup”) over photos of President Obama greeting and shaking hands with Hugo Chavez at the Americas Summit in Port of Spain, Trinidad.


Chavez said he also shook George Bush’s hand eight years ago– which is entirely possible, although I can find no photographic evidence.

Even though I was a little startled to see it, I can’t claim to be terribly upset. In fact it continues the process– which began with Obama’s election– of depriving Chavez of his favorite all-purpose punching bag; i.e., Yankee imperialism. The Bush administration’s tacit approval of the 2002 coup which briefly removed him from office gave Chavez a powerful tool with which rally his supporters. That’s clearly yesterday’s news now. As Chavez struggles with a sharp drop in the oil income which has helped him maintain power, he will find Obama to be a less convenient scapegoat than Bush was.

In fact it’s rather amusing to observe how disoriented Chavez seems to be now that El Diablo himself, George Bush, is no longer in the picture.

Chávez appears to be groping for the right approach to Obama, oscillating in recent weeks between acerbic criticism and conciliatory praise. When Obama said that Chávez aids Colombia’s Marxist guerrilla violence (which Chávez in fact has renounced), the Venezuelan President shot back that Obama had “the same stench” as Bush. But when the U.S. Coast Guard called Venezuelan authorities last week for permission to board a Venezuelan boat involved in a cocaine bust, Chávez called it a “positive signal that never would have happened” under Bush.

As long as Obama doesn’t back off from his sharp criticism of Chavez’s autocratic rule, I can tolerate a few photos of smiles and handshakes– in fact a little easier than I could Bush’s hand-holding and sword-dancing with, or even Obama’s bowing to, the Saudi rulers.

American journalist sentenced for spying in Iran

Roxana Saberi was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in 1977 to a father from Iran and a mother from Japan. Among other achievements, she was selected as Miss North Dakota in 1997 and obtained master’s degrees in journalism from Northwestern University (my alma mater) and in international relations from Cambridge University. She moved to Iran six years ago to work as a freelance journalist, and has reported for National Public Radio, the BBC and Fox News.

Saberi was arrested in Iran in January for illegally buying alcohol and working without press credentials; she was subsequently charged with espionage. After a secret trial by a “revolutionary court,” she was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Saberi’s father has visited his daughter in Evin prison. He said she is very weak, but wants to go on a hunger strike to protest her detention.

He was interviewed this morning on National Public Radio.

Shiraz Maher Has His Say

Nick Cohen and Sunder Katwala, director of the Fabian Society, have been at daggers drawn over the last few weeks after Cohen accused the Left of betraying ‘liberal Muslims’.

I initially had no intention of involving myself in this extraordinary row, and have resisted commenting on it so far – however, after being subjected to repeated ad hominem attacks in the most personal terms, I feel that I have to say something in response.

During a lengthy conversation with Cohen, on which he based part of his article, I suggested that neither the IPPR nor Fabian Society would have published my recent pamphlet for Policy Exchange which outlined a model for engagement with Muslim groups based on normative British values.

What followed the publication of that comment was a remarkable and heated response from the liberal-left which repeatedly maligned me.

Both Katwala and Stephen Pritchard, the Readers’ Editor at the Observer who belatedly waded into the row, felt Cohen was disingenuous because he neglected to mention my previous membership of a radical Islamist group, Hizb ut Tahrir (HuT).

That line of attack was surreal. My former activism with HuT is probably the best known fact about me.

I should make it clear to unfamiliar readers that I was a member of HuT from 2002-2005, which I joined, and left, while at university, before resigning as a matter of conscience. Though my association with HuT is something that I regret, I have never hidden my previous membership of that group. Indeed, since leaving the organisation I have spent much of my time advising young Muslims against the group, and against radical Islam more generally.

During my last year in HuT while I was studying at Cambridge University I also met and associated with the Glasgow bombers who were in the city at that time. I left Cambridge in 2005, resigning from HuT in the process, and had no further contact with either of the men involved in that attack. Two years later they would come back to haunt me. Thumbing through a newspaper I realised that I knew the men involved in the attack at Glasgow airport and immediately went to the police to offer any information that might have assisted their case. I later also appeared as a witness for the prosecution in the trial of those men and helped secure a conviction against Bilal Abdulla who is now serving 32 years in jail.

I cannot object to criticism of my political choices as an undergraduate: although as Katwala observes, few political careers end where they started. However, I find it hugely depressing that my adolescent politics are being deployed as a means of deflecting attention off the serious issues highlighted in my Policy Exchange report. And, in the context of Cohen’s article, I cannot see what possible relevance my background had to his story.

I would prefer not to engage with the ad hominem attacks leveled against me, but to explain why it was reasonable to suggest that neither the IPPR nor the Fabian Society would have published the paper I wrote for Policy Exchange.

Katwala points to Sadiq Khan’s admirable speech at the Fabian Society in 2006 when he compared Hizb ut Tahrir to the BNP. That is a welcome and accurate comparison but, in this context, it misses the point. Most people would agree that HuT is a bad thing, but I think that political Islamists – many of whom would eschew HuT’s methods – come from the same ideological stable. I would humbly submit, though it is of no pride to me, that on this point, I know rather more about how Islamist groups operate.

The real therefore issue is how a liberal society responds to the challenge of ‘entryist’ groups who seek to Islamise the public and political space. This was the central argument of my report.

Sadiq Khan was not the only person to speak at the “Being a British Muslim” event in 2006, but was also joined by Mohammed Abdul Bari from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB): a group Hazel Blears has recently shunned because of concerns about its views. On another occasion, the Fabian Society also hosted then General Secretary of the MCB, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, at the “New Year Conference 2006” to speak about “Are we educating for a shared society?” In that year the Fabians also extended a platform to Tariq Ramadan, a man whose heteroglossia has given cause for real concern, to discuss “Islam of the West: Will the Reformers Win?”. The crucial point about all three of these men is that they have associations with not uncontroversial Islamist bodies. Why, then, did a centre-Left organisation choose to host them?

Along with those voices the Fabians have also hosted genuinely liberal Muslim elements, which deserves recognition. However, the body of opinion which says we should balance space given to ‘reformers’ by also giving space to ‘radicals’ strikes me as perverse, borne of a dangerous deference to relativism. That is precisely what we were arguing against, in our study.

Notably, Sadiq Khan, Chair of the Fabian Society, backed Hazel Blears on this very issue when she took the courageous decision to prevent government officials from attending IslamExpo last year. The logic of that progressive decision implied a more rigorous policing of the boundaries of engagement, and Khan was right to have given Blears his support.

Of course, the progressive Left understood from an early stage that confessional identity politics was a bad thing in the context of Northern Ireland – so why should it think the same dangers do not apply on the British mainland in the context of radical Islam?

At the heart of all this lies the question about what kind of society we want to build for the future. After Ruth Kelly began the important process of distancing government from some of its traditional Islamist partners, Azzam Tamimi was quick to criticise those who were newly empowered. He suggested the government had chosen some Sufi partners ‘because these [Sufi] orders generally encourage the separation between life and religion’. More recently, the spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain – Inayat Bunglawala – said that Policy Exchange ‘has consistently tried to promote an apolitical version of Islam’.

Would this be such a bad thing? It may be bad news for Azzam Tamimi and Inayat Bunglawala, but why would it be bad news for Britain? Do we really want more religion in politics? Do we want to see more people adopting faith-based political identities? Ultimately, do we want progressive, non-sectarian politics in this country, or do we want to accommodate ourselves to sectarian ‘realities’?

These are among the most pressing issues for our society, and require consideration form those on all sides of the political spectrum.

Our argument is that we should not extend a platform to those who rail against the most basic values of our liberal society. It was therefore reasonable to conclude that the Fabian Society would not have published my report in the form that Policy Exchange produced it.

I also suggested that the IPPR would not have published my report and an article appearing on their website last week confirmed as much. Andy Hull and Ian Kearns said:

“Non-violent Islamists are much more likely to come across Al Qaeda recruiters and recruits than moderates, who do not move in those circles. And unlike most mainstream Muslim leaders, Al Qaeda’s Islamist critics have the credentials to make their criticism bite. If, as seasoned former counter-terrorism officer, Bob Lambert, observes, ‘Al Qaeda values dozens of recruits over hundreds of supporters’, can the government really afford to do business only with moderates?”

This is the entire issue on which my paper centred. I argued that because non-violent Islamists share many of al-Qaeda’s aspirations – though not its means – they are not acceptable partners for public engagement. It confirms that the IPPR would also have been reluctant to publish my paper which is diametrically opposed to the views espoused by Hull and Kearns.

However, as with the Fabian Society, it would be misleading to suggest that the IPPR always get it wrong. They are right to suggest “people can change their politics over time” (who am I to argue with that?) and recently invited Dilwar Hussain, head of the policy research centre at the Islamic Foundation, to write a chapter in their publication “Faith in the Nation: Religion, identity and the public realm in Britain today”. We welcomed his comments in my report as signalling a “welcome departure” for the Islamic Foundation.

Hussain’s comments are then only discussed in the context of how the government should assess and monitor institutional change. Indeed, if the balance within the Islamic Foundation is being tipped in favour of young reformers then surely the IPPR should welcome serious debate about how such reform is assessed.

Rather than consider these issues both Hull and Kearns resorted to lazy accusations of ‘thought policing’ and ‘McCarthyism’. My report was quite clear on what it advocated – disengagement from radical groups. That has nothing to do with criminalisation, but is about the government setting a clear marker of those values it believes are non-negotiable in our liberal society – or do Hull and Kearns believe that we have now gone so far into the entitlement culture that any official refusal to engage with sectarian groups is akin to criminalisation?

There is a final issue to address here too. Katwala and Pritchard both accuse me of being “miles off the pace” and “out of touch” with current liberal debate because I suggested that government has not done enough to promote the idea of “Britishness” as a counterbalance to the confident worldview radical Islam offers young men.

They point to a plethora of speeches and roundtables where ministers have spoken about the idea, all of which I acknowledge in my report.

My criticism is that while government has spoken about these issues, little meaningful change has materialised as a result of this debate. In fact, my report quite clearly states that the ideas espoused by government are ‘imprecise’, ‘vague’ and ‘poorly defined’ rendering them useless.

Debates in the Westminster village or with John Humphrys cockcrow constituency are one thing, but what is government doing to communicate its message of an inclusive and progressive national identity to the average Abdul in Bradford, or the ordinary Omar in Oldham?

Katwala and Pritchard miss this point entirely.

Rather than engage constructively with these issues, Nick Cohen’s enemies have used my naïve and youthful political errors as a stick to beat him with. I have been hurt and disappointed by this element of the debate. I am however delighted that my pamphlet has kick-started a much needed debate about the government’s engagement strategy, and welcome the comments and criticisms that have followed.

But the deeply personal terms in which so much of this spat has been conducted is unwarranted and jeopardises the emerging liberal consensus on important issues which transcend the traditional left-right divide.

This article clarifies the context in which my comments were made, and the basis on which they were reasonably founded. For Cohen to have alerted his comrades to that was not disingenuous, but a moral duty.

David Brooks “gets” Israel

The best 12-paragraph distillation of the place I’ve ever seen.

Above all this:

Israel’s enemies claim the country is an outpost of Western colonialism. That’s not true. Israel is, in large measure, a Middle Eastern country, and the Israeli-Arab dispute is in part an intra-Mideast conflict.

Those who have lived or spent time there: are there other writings which you think capture the Israeli zeitgeist?

(Hat tip: Jeffrey Goldberg)

What Is Going On In Mile End?

This is a guest post by George Readings

David T recently blogged about Queen Mary ISOC’s annual dinner. He was calling for one of their invited guests, Bilal Phillips, to be refused entry to the UK.

This is not the first time that QMUL has played host to extremists.

On 4th March this year and also 14th November 2008, Abu Usamah At-Thahabi spoke at the invitation of Queen Mary’s ISOC. On the more recent of these occasions his topic was “Where’s Wali?’

But he is more famous for what “Undercover Mosque” caught him saying on the topic of non-Muslims:

On 25th February, Abdur Raheem Green spoke on “Old Testament, New Testament and the final Testament – The Qur’an”; but in 2005 his views on violence in Islam were deemed too radical to permit entry to Australia:

Mr Green was also reported to have said: “The truth is that Islam teaches its followers to seek death on the battlefield, that dying while fighting jihad is one of the surest ways to paradise and Allah’s good pleasure.”

He said that had been taken from a letter he wrote to his father more than 10 years ago.

Jihad was a loaded term which had been linked with terrorism. “It is not about fighting for money or revenge but much more complex.”

It could include physically defending one’s land, family and country, which Westerners also supported, he said. “That is totally different from terrorism.”

Mr Green could not recall saying that conflict between Islam and the West was “not only sanctioned but ordered in the Koran”, although he admitted he might have once said something like that.

He pointed out the conflict of ideas between Western materialism and Islam and in that sense Muslims were always going to feel “a little uncomfortable” with non-Muslims

Then there’s Khalid Yasin, who thinks that AIDS is part of an international conspiracy to reduce the global population “to protect western civilisation.”

Not to forget the Hamas fan:

Oh, and Yahya Ibrahim, the translator of extreme Salafist material who David T has written about before. For him, AIDS is God’s wrath being wrought upon gays, and Christians and Jews are “the enemies”.

There have also been more than the odd talk by Uthman Lateef, a speaker from the Hittin Institute, which calls for shari’a for the UK and the end for Israel.

These speakers are not exceptions at Queen Mary’s, they represent about a quarter of the events listed online.

Research has shown that those active in student Islamic societies are significantly more likely to hold extreme views than other Muslim students. Which, when you note that over a quarter of students at Queen Mary’s are Muslim, means that an awful lot of moderate Muslims studying there are being badly misrepresented by their student society.

So, when are FOSIS and the NUS going to politely suggest to Queen Mary’s ISOC that, rather than inviting an array of bigots, terrorist sympathisers and general nutters, they focus on speakers who promote community cohesion, condemn terrorism in all forms and don’t propagate ridiculous conspiracy theories?

Or, are they just going to continue condemning anybody who points out that there might be a problem?

In A Hole, Digging

If your reputation was in tatters following reporting of your extreme political views, what would you do?

Here’s one of Daud Abdullah’s answers: team up with another discredited extremist to talk about jihad.

Tomorrow Abdullah, a signatory of the Istanbul declaration, will address a meeting alongside Azad Ali, a fan of jihadi Abdullah Azzam and jihadi preacher Anwar al-Awlaki.

The meeting will be held at the East London Mosque’s London Muslim Centre under the banner of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). Surely this can be taken as a further statement of the solidarity of these organisations with Abdullah and Ali’s views.

Remember, in January the London Muslim Centre hosted a meeting addressed by Anwar al-Awlaki and another, this time sponsored by the IFE, with an emissary of vicious Afghan warlord Hekmatyar.

Furthermore, the East London Mosque’s imam, Shah Jahan Abdul Qayyum, is also listed as a signatory of the Istanbul declaration.

Note that the mosque’s chairman is Muhammad Abdul Bari, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain and former president of the IFE.

Here’s the flyer for tomorrow’s meeting:


Note that the flyer claims Azad Ali is still the president of the Civil Service Islamic Society. If this is true, it constitutes another failure by the government to tackle Islamist extremism.

As for Abdullah, in this context it is worth taking another look at this video of him speaking in 2007.

Note in particular his take on the Taleban:

There is no winning in this battle. They cannot win a guerrilla war when the people are not in favour. When the people are against them, you cannot win. They tell us it is a war against the Taleban. It is not a war against the Taleban, it is a war against the Afghan people. There’s a national resistance in Afghanistan today.

Actually, a recent poll of Afghans for the BBC and ABC found that only 4% of them wanted the Taleban back in power, while 58% saw the hideous band of murderers as the “biggest danger” facing the country.

Oh, by the way, the East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre has received funding from the government as part of its anti-extremism policies (see page 33 of this pdf).

Well, Britain is rather good at dark comedy, isn’t it.

Crown Court Judge Slams Incompetent Solicitor Advocates

Here’s a recent judgement, by HHJ Gledhill QC.

It tells the story of what happened, when a firm of solicitors decided to send along an incompentent solicitor advocate to represent a defendant on a serious charge.

The judge lays the blame clearly at the feet of a system, which encourages solicitors to keep advocacy ‘in house’, rather than instrucing independent counsel. There is some suggestion that the defendant might not have been advised of his rights to choose his counsel.

Quite understandably, HHJ Gledhill QC didn’t want to earn a reputation as a Judge Pickles style controversialist, and has therefore chosen to circulate these comments within the legal profession in a low-key manner.

They should be read widely, by lawyer and politicians alike. 

Read it here

My Life


Good night.

(From the fabulous

“Anti-Israel Bias” In a Most Surprising Place

Have a read of these passages:

Forty years on, Israel has settled more than 400,000 people on land occupied in 1967, in defiance of everyone’s interpretation of international law except its own.

The Israeli generals, mainly hugely self-confident sabras in their late 30s and early 40s, had been training to finish the unfinished business of 1948 for most of their careers.

When the messianic moment of victory combined with Zionism’s innate instinct to push out the frontier, the result was the settlement movement. 

These are the very passages that are the subject of the BBC Trust ruling. But they’re not on the BBC: at least not any more. 

They’re from The JC.

It looks rather as if Jeremy Bowen cut and pasted his JC article into his BBC article. And that’s when the fun started…