ISIS: The Verdict

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ISIS – the criminals responsible for the brutal killings of American journalists Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, the beheading of British aid workers David Haines and most recently Alan Henning – let’s not forget the thousands of unnamed Syrians and Iraqis slaughtered at the hands of this evil.

No words can describe the brutality of this barbaric group…and Muslim is definitely not one of them.
Just as saying ABRACADABRA does not make someone a magician, exclaiming ALLAH HU’AKHBAR before a beheading does not make ISIS Muslims. #notinmyname

If by adopting one word you represent Muslims worldwide. Then I’m sure the Ku Klux Klan who killed thousands of African Americans represent white Christians worldwide.
Doesn’t quite add up does it?

ISIS are the definition of evil but there is more to them than meets the eye.
What I find quite interesting is that ISIS control a generous amount of oil fields in Syria that would comfortably supply them with a few million a day. So why the need of government ransom money?

And the people they’ve murdered… Let’s take Alan Henning for example… taxi driver, married, two kids, lives in a red brick house, charity volunteer, middle aged…seems to be someone everyone could relate to. Someone who you’d naturally feel for and defend.
A bloke you’d meet at the pub or see at a football match.
The kind of guy that every person from Britain would feel as if they lost or be reminded of a friend, father, son or neighbour. “He was one of us”…”ordinary man”
Are specific people being targeted? Do the killers have their own type of “prey” that would be strong enough to divide a nation and condemn a religion?

Commander in Chief Obama stated the United States military would take on ISIS in Iraq/Syria by attacking them from the air.
Yes ISIS is evil
Yes ISIS needs to be stopped
Yes there is no excuse for their barbarism

But… does military action resolve anything?
Will dropping bombs on innocent civilians destroy a hate filled ideology or will it fuel revenge attacks? Will it give reason to draw the innocent closer to ISIS – upset, angry people who have lost their families due to no fault of their own are the most vulnerable people to recruit..it’s an ISIS wonderland… what will be stopping ISIS from recruiting angry fighters from inside Iraq’s Sunni communities?

How will cruise missiles help build a national civic identity…to unite Iraq…one where there is no divisions between different sects or tribes?

And of course dispatching drones has always been the answer to producing inclusive governments… the cure to heal long standing rifts and ultimately give people confidence to reject ISIS.

But let’s not worry Obama and his entourage (including David Cameron) have got it all under control…let’s not forget Americas got years of experience where military action resolved it all… Vietnam? Afghanistan? Yemen? Libya? I’m sure the peaceful, serene, utopian Middle East says it all.
For over a decade military action has been used to destroy the Taliban. Yet they still seem to exist in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the Al Qadea have found a new home in India.

When will we learn that air power does not make us superior. It is not the solution. It will not eradicate the problem, rather make it worse.
When a husband and wife have a dispute. If a man raises his hand to his wife, has this resolved the situation? Or has the wife turned bitter towards her husband? Called her brothers over, involved her parents in the situation, they’ve gone round in circles over the same issue and then hit a dead end.

Relationships between countries are just as delicate. Issues should be confronted and tackled head on. Why don’t we go back to basics and actually speak with our mouths about what needs to be done without dropping the B**B word.

Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Qatar, United Emirates, Baghdad…let’s all put our pride and ego to one side and work towards the same goal… peace.
Confront ISIS ideology
Tackle the oil fields that are funding this reign of terror
Give justice to the families who have lost loved ones at the hands of this evil
Ensure Sunni participation in the new Iraq government.

Or will the bombs do all the talking for you?
The same bombs that have failed to show any results in the last decade?

I will leave you with the words of Napoleon Hill:

“The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.”

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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PLEDGE FOR THE SREBRENICA GENOCIDE

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The past week marked the first UK memorial service for the Srebrenica genocide where people gathered to offer their thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.

Before I witter on, let’s put things into context and begin with a short history lesson…

During the Balkans conflict of 1992-1995, the Bosnian town of Srebrenica was declared a UN Safe Area in 1993, under the watch of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR).

In July 1995, General Ratko Mladić and his Serbian paramilitary units overran and captured the town.
Yeah, not so much of a UN Safe Area afterall…

The following days witnessed the systematic massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys and the forced removal of 30,000 Muslim women and girls including thousands of them brutally tortured and raped.

It was the greatest atrocity on European soil since World War Two.

Eighteen years on, the legacy of Srebrenica and the conflict of the 1990s still haunts Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Victims remain unidentified despite the work of International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) and the perpetrators of these crimes remain at large.

Since the end of the fighting, only 60 cases of wartime sexual violence have been prosecuted, despite some estimates suggesting that up to 50,000 women were raped in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the violence.

The evil and barbarism of the genocide is rooted deep within Bosnia as every year remains of victims from Srebrenica and other atrocities are discovered. This opens up wounds that do not want to be revisited by families as the painful process of identification begins.

But what adds even more salt to the wound is when President
Milorad Dodik has repeatedly denied that what happened in Srebrenica constituted genocide. Despite the fact it has been established as such at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court.

Maybe he needed reminding of the definition of genocide:

“The deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group”
Now tell me how the forceful killing of 8,000 Muslims alone does not fit this definition?

In 1999, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wrote:

“Through error, misjudgment and an inability to recognise the scope of the evil confronting us, we failed to do our part to help save the people of Srebrenica from the Serb campaign of mass murder.”

We may have marked a memorial service, taken part in a peace march, but Srebrenica is still scarred with the injustice and suffering of its people.

Children are educated separately depending on their ethnicity, politicians cannot put their ethnic agendas aside and work as a nation thus Srebrencia and Herzegovina are still not part of the EU or NATO.

The legacy of Srebrenica is a reminder of the evil, of the inhumanity, of the living definition of ethnic cleansing. How far one can go when motivated by racial hatred.

I hold the victims, families, loved ones, soil and stone, all those who witnessed the barbarism of evil deep in my prayers and call for the justice of Srebrencia… never again will humanity fail…
Have we become that cold that it is only European soil where blood shed is valued?

May we learn the lessons of the past, and not find ourselves reading the same note from the UN, apologising for their incapabilities.
If a note of apology is not good enough to excuse one from a parking ticket, then by no means is it good enough in the face of a raped, tortured, widowed mother who has watched her husband and son killed, lost her family and livelihood.

May we stand tall and pledge:

Never again to my my brothers and sisters in Gaza
Never again to my aunties and uncles in Somalia
Never again to my friends and neighbours in Burma
Never again to my mums and dads wherever they face war, conflict, oppression, famine, torture, deprivation or denial of human rights.

HUMANITY WILL NOT FAIL YOU
We pledge never again.

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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PALESTINE: THE UGLY TRUTH

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The kidnapping and killing of three young Israeli boys (whom Palestinians believed to be settlers) and the death of a Palestinian teenager have caused a national outcry and thought to have endangered any form of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

But what is even more astonishing is the behavior of the world leaders.

The rightful saints who stand for justice and peace aka David Cameron and Barack Obama publicly stated the condemnation of the deaths of three Israelis.

Yet these rightful saints remained largely unmoved by the shooting of two unarmed Palestinian boys, the killing of at least six civilians since Israel began searching for the kidnappers and the bombing and destruction of Palestinian homes and livelihoods in a ‘revenge’ attack by Israeli troops.

Palestinian minors accounted for some 25% of the 5,000 Palestinian deaths in the first (1987) and second (2000) intifadas. According to the Israeli Human Rights group B’Tselem, some 84 Palestinian minors and 19 women were killed by Israeli forces in the five years up to May 2014, compared with 10 Israeli civilians. Last year the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child estimated that 7,000 children, mainly aged from 12 to 17 but some as young as nine, have been arrested, interrogated and detained between 2002 and 2012 – an average of two per day.

However, my friends I use these statistics lightly as there are thousands more men women and children who have been brutally tortured, raped, unfairly imprisoned, separated from their families and killed.

Let’s be reminded that it is not only the men on the front line that bare the brunt of this conflict.

The injustice faced cannot be expressed in this blog (from a woman sat comfortably in a country knowing she has food, water, shelter, security, family, rights and limited media coverage) but what I am attempting is to reflect on the recent events in Palestine.

During this reflection what I have found most astonishing was the value of life.

Tariq Abukhdeir a 15 year old Palestinian-American boy who was on a family vacation to Palestine was brutally beaten by Israelis to the point he fell unconscious.

This attack has received national coverage and a call for justice for the young boy.

However, Tariq’s experience occurs on a daily basis in Palestine and on many occasions has resulted in far worse.
Attacks on children have become the norm to the extent that Human Rights groups have reported that Palestinian children detained by Israeli occupation forces are routinely subjected to solitary confinement and other forms of mistreatment including rape threats, amounting to torture and those responsible are never held accountable.

I am not for a moment trying to say what happened to Tariq is trivial and should be ignored and forgotten. Any man to raise a hand on a child, is not a man in my eyes.

BUT I ASK:

How has one attack received generous media attention and the killings and mistreatment of thousands of Palestinians gone unheard.

Is a single American life valued more than the thousands of Palestinians in suffering?

Have the cries of those in despair without adequate means of survival fallen on deaf ears?

The killing and mistreatment of innocent civilians cannot be justified.

The rape of women and torture of children cannot be justified.

To forcefully separate a mother from her child, for her to watch her husband beaten to death, for her to hideaway her daughter so she is not raped and to be left with no home or shelter -Where is the justice in this? This has become the life of many Palestinians.

Wrong is wrong irrespective of race, colour, creed and nationality.

But if it takes one American child to be affected by this for the call to justice to be made, then so be it.

By Sameera Rafiq

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ISTANBUL… WHERE EAST MEETS WEST

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The city that is the literal definition of British Muslims – sitting between East and West…. Istanbul.

Turkey was never on my top ten list of destinations to visit. Or any list for that matter. I always thought of it to be a touristy holiday that enticed people with halal meat… How we love our meat! Yes we travel to the corners of the world, fly with Emirates, and eat big macs at the airport for a 5am flight because…we finally can!

But oh how wrong I was!

It is impossible for me to capture my experience and amazement of such an enlightening trip in one blog… A spiritual journey sums it up beautifully.

I found myself doing the Muslim version of a pub crawl…hopping from mosque to mosque praying alongside my sisters from different countries, ethnicities and cultures… even sitting alongside non Muslims from all corners of the world in awe of the architecture and peaceful atmosphere.
Yet there was one similarity we all shared… the experience.

There was no prejudice, judgmental behavior or any form of rudeness I experienced or witnessed.

Men and women both tourists and locals were kindly given appropriate garments to cover themselves, shown the dedicated areas to carry out ablution (wudu) and not bombarded or pressured with charity boxes.

Yet what I found the most refreshing was the coexistence of Islamic history with modern thought.

Under the Ottoman Empire, each religious community was autonomous in domestic affairs and could apply its own religious law in its own courts.

Sultan Mehmet the Conquerer, increased the population of the city by bringing in immigrants from different regions, and started to reconstruct the deserted and wrecked city. He granted freedom of worship and social rights to the former inhabitants.

Even today Turkey believe in the freedom to practice all religions: the infamous Topkapi Palace that inhabits the valuables of the Prophets is situated next door to a Church.
The Galata Tower being one of the wonders of Istanbul inhabited the Jewish community and acted as a safe passage for Jews seeking refuge from the horrors of the Bolsheviks and Nazis.
Also the must see Hagia Sophia that was converted from a Church into a Mosque once the Muslims took power, still exhibits Christian artefacts.

Seeing people from all walks of life in awe of the rich pedigree of history, culture and commerce was breathtaking.

However, on my return to Manchester I was welcomed with headlines of: "Woman stabbed 16 times due to wearing a hijab" and "Third Jihadists in Isis."

What happened to the Islam that people travelled across sea and land to experience?
The perception of a peaceful and welcoming religion was shattered with extreme antics.

But it didn't seem to sit quite right with me.
The memories of minarets and domes dominating the skyline, the call to prayer (Azaan) five times a day uniting all, the welcoming and friendly behaviour of locals, not having to worry about pick pocketers, feeling safe traveling even when sat near men with 5ft long beards and women fully veiled that nothing will surprisingly explode.

Why is the world not being exposed to this Islam…the only Islam. Not a manipulated version that strikes fear into people's heart.

Yes, there are different perceptions of Islam across the world. Unfortunately there are prejudices and stereotypes that we all have to suffer with from time to time.

But isn't it refreshing to know that somewhere in the world the very religion that is now associated with terrorism and extremism is showing its true peaceful and pure teachings that even non Muslims visit to indulge in the experience.

The biggest lesson I learnt from Istanbul was the history I had to be proud of… the astonishing architecture of the palaces, the ruling of the Ottomon Empire, how they were welcoming to all even though at a similar time Muslims and Jews were tortured and kicked out from Spain, which was supposedly the intellectually flourishing country at the time. The exhibitions of armour, jewels, religious artefacts and art… the list is endless.

The chance to see this side of Turkish society shed a deep light on religious and spiritual practice.

A priceless experience…

By Sameera Rafiq

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TROJAN HORSE AFFAIR: ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS

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The Trojan horse affair: with a teaspoon of curiosity, half a pound of politics, one cup of race, a pinch of education and a whole bowl of confusion – freshly served to the British public!
Now that pretty much sums up the British political scene for the past week.

Let’s have a breakdown of the drama to get our heads around the Birmingham bonanza.

It all started one brisky morning in November of last year. A letter was sent from Birmingham Islamist group to counterparts in Bradford. The letter advised them to carry out a similar attack as they had apparently done by hijacking boards of governors in predominant Muslim state schools and forced out the non-Muslim opposition.

HOWEVER, the letter was entangled with errors. Hence, it was widely believed to be a hoax. This flimsy piece of paper was passed around like a high school love note. It travelled to Birmingham city’s administration, then got passed to West Midlands police until it finally arrived at the Home Office who then decided to forward it to the Department of Education, where it gathered dust until February when it was leaked to the media.

What is astonishing is that this hoax of a paper has resulted in shaking the knees of politicians, leading into four separate inquiries, including the Ofsted inspection of 21 schools, in particular Park View Academy which has now been placed in special measures.

A little drama was also stirred in a public spat between Michael Gove and Theresa May regarding the definition of extremism. The DfE’s definition of extremism has also shifted from suicide bombers to religious conservatives. Now that my friends, is a dangerously wide definition.

Thus the confusion and uproar when a word that most associate with a bearded man taking over and throwing bombs left, right and centre is used so lightly.

Rest assured all was resolved with the predictable and sufficient public apology which was followed by the resignation of one of May’s special advisers for revealing too much… revealing too much of what may I ask?

The claims that have sent politicians dizzy include allegations of segregated classes, compulsory prayers and incendiary preachers at school assemblies.

HOWEVER, evidence of such occurrences is yet to be found.
Which explains why the focus for the investigation has slipped from extremism to “an awareness of the risks associated with extremism” is the phrase now used by Ofsted inspectors.

But the final piece of the jigsaw has to be the reputation of Ofsted – those darn reports that Ofsted previously compiled praising several of the schools for their academic results and record for improving community relations are under fire.

The real question now is which Ofsted inspection failed us? The earlier one that praised the schools? Or the one that has put them under special measures?

As a child I never really understood the game rock, paper, scissors…But now I’m coming to understand how paper can win rock… it must be one weak rock that crumbles in the face of one flimsy paper – now that I guess better explains the British political scene.

Written by Sameera Rafiq

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HALAL-ISM. The Muslims are back!

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Not these Muslims AGAIN! We are still incapable of understanding the whole veil (nikaaq) bonanza and now they hit us even harder. OUR MEAT. “British school kids are being forced to eat halal meat”, “Britain goes halal…but no one tells the public”. Oh how we owe our lives to these tabloids, otherwise no one would actually know the truth.

It is almost as if Muslims were behind some sinister plot to inflict halal meat on innocent Non-Muslim Brits.

What is the actual issue? The fact that Muslims simply have their meat slaughtered in a different manner? And ofcourse this is just news to us all as it hasn’t been the case for centuries, and I am sure nobody was taught about it during Religious Studies at High School. Or how cruel Muslims are to animals? Oh and how the 3 percent Muslim population is dominating so called multi-cultural Britain.

The theatrics stop here.

The term halal has thrown up such a frenzy lets actually take a moment to define what it means. The literal translation is “lawful” and refers to any object – not just food – or action or behaviour that is deemed permissible under Islamic law.

For meat to be considered halal, three conditions must be met:

1) The animal must be healthy and uninjured and, crucially, it must be killed with a cut to the throat.
2) All the blood must be drained from the animal’s body.
3) The slaughterer must recite the appropriate Islamic prayer at the time of slaughter.

Islam, like Judaism, prescribes a single-cut method of slaughter: the animal is killed with a quick cut to the throat using a sharp knife. This allows the blood to drain out and, it is believed, makes the meat cleaner.

I understand the image of blood draining out of an animal’s body can be quite graphic. I still remember witnessing a cow being slaughtered in Pakistan and the blood flowing through the valley. But Muslims, like Jews, insist that so-called ritual slaughter is humane and pain-free because the animal quickly loses consciousness. In the words of Dr Majid Katme, a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain: “There is no time to start feeling any pain.”

Joe Regenstein, professor of food science at Cornell University in the United States, who leads the university’s Kosher and Halal Food Initiative makes some worthy points, “the traditional or Prophetic method might actually be equal or possibly superior” because the initial pain of the throat cut results “in the animal releasing large quantities of endorphins, putting it in a state of euphoria and numbness”. The cut thus serves as its own stun. The scientific evidence against halal slaughter, Regenstein says, “is extremely weak and has often been done poorly with an agenda driving a desired outcome”.

To then argue that Muslims do not care about animal welfare is ludacris. There are several Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet warning Muslims not to harm livestock; mistreatment of animals is considered a sin.

If this issue is really about animal cruelty, we should also label those meat products that have been subject to a pre-slaughter intervention – like having their skull cracked open, being electrocuted, or put in a gas chamber. More so, there should be labelling on meat that has come from animals who have been victims of “mis-stunning”, which leaves the animal conscious and in pain, and occurs “relatively frequently”, according to a 2004 report by the European Food Safety Authority.

Why not label all meat with detailed explanations of how exactly the animal in question was killed, and let consumers decide? Why is only halal meat in question here? Despite Jews having similar conditions regarding meat being slaughtered why is there no outcry towards the Jewish population? Why are there no headlines aimed at the Jews?  

To even consider for a moment that food outlets are serving halal meat is a sign of Muslim domination is beyond belief. It all comes down to the fact that we live in a capitalist society. Therefore, businesses will invest in what they believe will bring in the money, and not simply to please the Muslim population, which I would like to remind everyone, sits at 3 percent.

Whether Pizza Express or any other food outlet is ‘secretly’ halal is not a mission set up by Secret Services that has somehow been leaked, it takes looking no further than their website to see what options are available.

And if people want to turn this halal issue into a moral panic and vow never to shop at Asda again. May I remind you that also means never to have a kebab again from the takeaways that im sure you undoubtedly enjoyed after a Saturday night. And oh do you remember that curry you was just ‘gorgeous’, yep, that was halal meat too my friend.

So I think we should put this back into perspective. And remember I am the student, like many other Muslims, who in the university canteen is spoilt by choice – either it will be a cheese sandwich, or maybe we will go crazy and get a tuna panini! Your choices have not been limited.

But I would like to leave you with this thought:

Has halal become a substitute for much deeper fears and worries about the presence of a growing and vocal Muslim population.

If this was a debate about animal welfare, it would be about all forms of slaughter; if it was a debate about ritual slaughter, it would address kosher, and not just halal meat.

Is the issue really with the meat or the religion?

 

Written by Sameera Rafiq

Reflective Portfolio

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Our group consisted of: Marc, Hannah, Conor and I.

The roles were divided on personal preference, Marc and I decided to write an article and gather any media that would add to the story.

After we both researched the article titles it seemed the most suitable topic to concentrate on for the group, due to interests and possible interviewees, would be on the Olympic legacy and the Respect campaign for referees. Conor decided to take charge of the coding for the website and write a short feature piece whilst Hannah also decided to write a feature piece using storify and look into some of the media aspects of the assignment.

There was no particular leader, everybody discussed the assignment ideas collectively. A Facebook group was set up where any links or material could be shared. This was a valuable communication tool as the group could provide feedback or advise on any issues.

Throughout the project we continued to have group meetings to discuss the progress of the project which kept everyone on task and the project in motion.

I began my role by researching into the Olympic legacy. In particular I analysed statistics and surveys in order to incorporate data journalism. I contacted several sport and fitness clubs in Manchester to request their club membership numbers and find out their opinion on the piece. However, this proved difficult as I struggled to receive a reply. In addition, many clubs did not keep up to date records and MMU Union was occupied with official meetings.

Nonetheless, through persistence I managed to secure some statistics and opinions. I spoke with Moss Side boxing club who were the first club to benefit from Sport England’s Inspired Facilities Fund. In addition to, MMU Union Student Activities Officer, Sports Development Officer and Sports Co-coordinator as well as a Youth Worker who is collaborating with UsGirls. This is a group that aims to tackle the gender gap in sport.

Marc and I carried out vox pops at the All Saints Campus for both articles, we aimed for a gender balance to achieve a fair student voice. However, when we initially carried out the vox pops the background noise of the strong winds was too loud. Therefore, on the second attempt the recorder was changed to one with a wind guard and we positioned our bodies to block out any background noise.

I visited the Student Union and The USGirls project to capture original images which were appropriate for the story. I also found two suitable videos on the Olympics from YouTube.

Overall, I enjoyed working on the project and the collective approach taken suited the team and ensured team members were contributing. I have learnt that persistence and determination is key to getting information and when something does not work the first time i.e. the vox pops, take it as a learning experience, make the necessary changes and the second time will prove more successful.

In hindsight, I would have liked to have some input in the coding of the website in order to progress those skills. It also would have been great to carry out recorded interviews with those who commented on the piece for the video clips section.
However, with other course assignments and work commitments it was not possible to do so.