Naked protest in Tunisia fails to impress

Tunisian feminist Amina Tyler says that she set out to highlight the issue of women's rights when she posted topless pictures of herself on the Femen website. Since you can see topless girls on Page 3 in Britain's largest selling newspaper and similar full frontals across other European print media, it wasn't really such a shocking act. Read more

Who is (still) Afraid of Emily Davison?

In a few weeks time the 100th anniversary of the death of heroic suffragette Emily Wilding Davison should be marked with a minute’s silence at the iconic Epsom Derby but this small act of remembrance is being resisted by the very same Establishment attitude that tried to crush the movement for women’s rights back in 1913. Read more

How the Graffiti Boys ignited the Syrian Revolution

“Ashaab yureed isqat annidham." This phrase is ringing in the ears of tyrants and despots around the Arab world and means quite simply that the people want to bring down the regime. It is the enduring chant of the Arab Spring, so it's hardly surprising that these are probably the first words children learn in their cradles as they are rocked to sleep to the beat of this rousing street anthem. Read more

Bin Ladin Film is a Disaster Movie

Every now and again a movie is released which creates a major change in society and the way it thinks, such is the power and influence of Hollywood at its best. In The Heat of the Night is a classic example and it forced middle class Americans in 1967 to take a long hard look in the mirror to confront their attitudes towards race and prejudice. Read more

Scotland Yard’s Toxic Legacy

People think I’m anti-police. I’m not … but I do despise bent coppers who think they are above the law. And when it comes to the guardians of the law the main target of my criticism is usually the Metropolitan Police and with good reason. My first memories of their bad behaviour stem from the 1980s when I was working as a regional journalist. Read more

Algerian kidnappers demand release of Dr Aafia Siddiqui

Who is Dr Aafia Siddiqui? And why are Algerian hostage-takers demanding her release? A key demand of the Algerian hostage takers is the release of a Pakistani mother-of-three currently serving an 86-year sentence in a US prison. So why has her case gone virtually unmentioned in the mainstream media? Journalist Yvonne Ridley, herself a former hostage, reports. Read more

Bush and cronies found guilty of war crimes

IT’S OFFICIAL – George W Bush is a war criminal. In what is the first ever conviction of its kind anywhere in the world, the former US President and seven key members of his administration were yesterday (Friday) found guilty of war crimes. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their legal advisers Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee and John Yoo were tried in absentia in Malaysia.

The trial held in Kuala Lumpur heard harrowing accounts from victims of torture who suffered at the hands of US soldiers and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. They included testimony from Briton Moazzam Begg, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, and Iraqi woman Jameelah Abbas Hameedi, who was tortured in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

At the end of the week-long hearing, the five-panel tribunal delivered unanimous “guilty” verdicts against Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, as well as their key legal advisors. All were convicted as war criminals on charges of committing torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Full transcripts of the charges, witness statements and other relevant material will now be sent to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as the United Nations and the UN Security Council.

The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission is also asking for the names of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee, Addington and Haynes to be entered and included in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals for public record.

The tribunal was an initiative of the ex-Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who was a staunch opponent of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. He sat through the entire hearing as it took personal statements and testimonies of three witnesses namely Abbas Abid, Moazzam Begg and Jameelah Hameedi. The tribunal also heard two other Statutory Declarations of Iraqi citizen Ali Shalal and Rahul Ahmed, another British citizen. After the guilty verdict reached by five senior judges was delivered, Dr Mohamad said, “Powerful countries are getting away with murder.”

War crimes expert and lawyer Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois College of Law in America, was a member of the prosecution team. After the verdicts were delivered he said, “This is the first conviction of these people anywhere in the world.”

While the tribunal is regarded by some as being purely symbolic, human rights activist Boyle said that he was hopeful that Bush and Co could soon find themselves facing similar trials elsewhere in the world. “We tried three times to get Bush in Canada but were thwarted by the Canadian Government; then we scared Bush out of going to Switzerland. The Spanish attempt failed because of the government there and the same happened in Germany.”

Boyle then made reference to the Nuremberg Charter which was used as the format for the tribunal when asked about the credibility of the initiative in Malaysia. Quoting directly from the Charter he said, “Leaders, organisers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit war crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any person in execution of such a plan.”

The US is subject to customary international law and to the Principles of the Nuremberg Charter, said Boyle, who also believes that the week-long trial was “almost certainly” being monitored closely by Pentagon and White House officials.

Professor Gurdial Singh Nijar, who headed the prosecution team, pointed out that the tribunal “was very careful to adhere scrupulously to the regulations drawn up by the Nuremberg courts and the International Criminal Courts”. He added that he was optimistic about the tribunal being followed-up elsewhere in the world where “countries have a duty to try war criminals”; he cited as an example the case of the former Chilean dictator Augustine Pinochet who was arrested in Britain to be extradited to Spain on charges of war crimes. “Pinochet was only eight years out of his presidency when that happened.”

The Pinochet case was the first time that several European judges applied the principle of universal jurisdiction, declaring themselves competent to judge crimes committed by former heads of state, despite local amnesty laws.

Throughout the week, the tribunal was packed with legal experts and law students as witnesses gave testimony and then faced cross-examination by defence lawyers led by Jason Kay Kit Leon.

The tribunal heard how

  • Abbas Abid, a 48-year-old engineer from Fallujah in Iraq had his fingernails removed by pliers.
  • Ali Shalal had bare electrical wires attached to his body and was electrocuted and hanged from a wall.
  • Moazzam Begg was beaten, hooded and put in solitary confinement.
  • Jameelah was stripped and humiliated, and was used as a human shield whilst being transported by helicopter.

The witnesses also explained that even now they have residual injuries. Moazzam Begg, now working as the director of the London-based human rights group Cageprisoners, said that he was delighted with the verdict, but cautioned, “When people talk about Nuremberg you have to remember that those who were tried were all prosecuted after the war. Right now Guantanamo is still open, people are still being held there and are still being tortured there.”

In response to questions about the difference between the Bush and Obama Administrations, he added: “If President Bush was the President of extra-judicial torture then US President Barak Obama is the President of extra-judicial killing through drone strikes. Our work has only just begun.”

The prosecution case rested on proving how the decision-makers at the highest level -President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defence Rumsfeld, aided and abetted by lawyers and other commanders and CIA officials – all acted in concert. Torture was applied systematically and became an accepted norm.

According to the prosecution, the testimony of all the witnesses exposed a sustained regime of brutal, barbaric, cruel and dehumanising conduct against them. These criminal acts were applied cumulatively to inflict the worst possible pain and suffering, said lawyers.

The president of the tribunal, Tan Sri Dato Lamin bin Haji Mohd Yunus Lamin, found that the prosecution had established beyond “reasonable doubt” that the accused persons, former President George Bush and his co-conspirators, “engaged in a web of instructions, memos, directives, legal advice and action that established a common plan and purpose, joint enterprise and/or conspiracy to commit the crimes of Torture and War Crimes, including and not limited to a common plan and purpose to commit the following crimes in relation to the ‘War on Terror’ and the wars launched by the US and others in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

President Lamin told a packed courtroom: “As a tribunal of conscience, the Tribunal is fully aware that its verdict is merely declaratory in nature. The tribunal has no power of enforcement, no power to impose any custodial sentence on any one or more of the 8 convicted persons. What we can do, under Article 31 of Chapter VI of Part 2 of the Charter, is to recommend to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission to submit this finding of conviction by the Tribunal, together with a record of these proceedings, to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, as well as the United Nations and the Security Council.

“The Tribunal also recommends to the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission that the names of all the 8 convicted persons be entered and included in the Commission’s Register of War Criminals and be publicised accordingly.

“The Tribunal recommends to the War Crimes Commission to give the widest international publicity to this conviction and grant of reparations, as these are universal crimes for which there is a responsibility upon nations to institute prosecutions if any of these Accused persons may enter their jurisdictions”.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is also a patron of Cageprisoners


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Obama’s Hollow Victory

It was such a seismic event that, like many people of her generation, my mother’s point of reference for most things is the Second World War.

And while I’m quite sure she and her friends registered their approval over the demise of Al Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, they must be wondering why the America Administration continues to make such a fuss.

Osama was, after all, no Hitler, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin or Caligula – he headed no country nor ruled over a state; and in fact the last few years of his life have proven to be extremely reclusive, secluded and isolated.

Yet one week on and we’re being bombarded with dramatic headlines, videotapes and other insignificant, contradictory details of the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

I know a presidential election is around the corner but Obama really does need to get a grip and a sense of proportion here.
Journalist Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked Online nailed it when he said: “The killing of the head of al-Qaeda has been treated as if it were a momentous occasion on a par with the Allies’ defeat of Germany and Japan in the Second World War.”

Raining on the US President’s parade he added: “..all that really happened in Pakistan is that a small group of American soldiers shot and killed an ageing, sickly man in a mansion, who was the nominal head of a small and increasingly fractured terrorist organization..”

I couldn’t have said it better myself but I’m often accused of being anti-American (totally untrue, by the way) because I say things that sadly Uncle Sam’s best friends won’t. The reality is the OBL news was a great day for Obama’s election campaign but equally a bad day for international justice.

What the Commander in Chief really did was order the summary execution of an unarmed and frail man whose body was then disposed of by being dumped in the sea, without the legal requirement of a post mortem examination. It was almost as though they were afraid of the corpse.
This actually made the most powerful nation in the world look incredibly weak and cowardly; too afraid to put OBL on trial as was done with Second World War Nazi leader Adolf Otto Eichmann.

For those who don’t know or want a reminder, Eichmann was captured, drugged and kidnapped in Argentina by Mossad agents in 1960 after fleeing Germany and living in hiding after the Second World War.

Eichmann was one of the chief architects of the Holocaust which involved the slaughter of millions of Jewish people, the genocide of the Romani and other minority groups including homosexuals, political dissidents and trade unionists.
The trial caused huge international controversy, as well as an international sensation but it was broadcast live with few restrictions so the whole world could see justice being done.

Eichmann was hanged on May 31, 1962, at a prison in Ramla before his body was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Mediterranean’s international waters to ensure no country would serve as his final resting place.

Importantly, the trial gave closure for many Holocaust survivors and the world was able to witness justice in action just as it had been in 1945 during the Nuremberg trials for the likes of Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess and Martin Bormann.
On a scale measuring pure evil, OBL was a mere pygmy compared to Eichmann and Hitler’s close circle.

But it was Western governments led by the US that fed, developed and nurtured Osama’s reputation for being the most feared, most wanted and most evil man alive. OBL himself must have been delighted, he couldn’t have done a better job than if he’d hired Hill and Knowlton or Saatchi & Saatchi.

His very name was deliberately used to panic ordinary Americans and so, I guess, it was hardly surprising that high school kids and frat boys in New York responded with undiluted hysteria and took to the streets on hearing Obama declare he was dead.
What a missed opportunity.

The Eichmann trial was a victory for justice and most people approved although the Argentinians who had their sovereignty breached were still miffed by the audacious kidnap, drugging and removal of the war criminal by Mossad.

Anyone who knows me and why work know I loathe the Zionist State and what it stands for, and that includes its intelligence agency Mossad but give credit where it’s due … there is good reason why Mossad shines above most agencies for its work and that is because its hallmarks, on the whole, are secrecy and discretion (we can revisit the blunders made by Mossad’s assassination squad in Dubai another time).

Similar reputations are enjoyed by the CIA’s nemesis Pakistan’s ISI which rarely responds to criticism or comment of its work, as well as Britain’s SIS, China’s feared MSS and Russia’s FSB.

At the other end of the scale is the Central Intelligence Agency who has been briefing the world’s media non-stop since the Abbottabad fiasco. Instead of remaining in the shadows the CIA team dissecting the intelligence data are singing like canaries on crack.

Well they do say that empty vessels make the loudest noise.


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Britain must not support US-style justice

There are a number of men being held without charge or trial in Britain’s own version of Guantanamo Bay.

And while David Cameron’s government is willing to condemn the existence of this boil on the face of human rights in occupied Cuba, it remains silent about those being held in Wiltshire’s Long Lartin prison.

Most of them are fighting extradition to the US—a fight that has become even more urgent now that we have all seen US justice in action in recent days.

US justice means extrajudicial killings, targeted assassinations, and doing away with the need for a fair trial, or any trial for that matter.

I would hope, and expect, all of their legal teams now, as a matter of urgency, submit new appeals on behalf of their clients to stop extradition immediately to a country that simply cannot deal justly with those it suspects of terrorism.

Can anyone really give guarantees these men will not be put up against a wall and shot in the back of the head the moment they arrive on US soil?

Some of the men I’m talking about have been held since before 9/11 and one includes Saudi-born Khalid al-Fawwaz who has endured this legal limbo now for more than 12 years.

US intelligence says he is accused of conspiring with Osama bin Laden in the bombings of two US embassies. This may be true; I don’t know and neither do any of us until he is put through a fair trial. One thing is for sure—a key witness is now lying at the bottom of the ocean in a weighted-down body bag.

Prosecutors in New York have now charged Fawwaz with helping al-Qaida to orchestrate the 1998 car bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people.

A letter from a lawyer seeking to be appointed as Fawwaz’s US defence counsel said: “He [Fawwaz] anticipates extradition from the United Kingdom to the United States within the next few months to face these charges.”

The lawyer, David Kirby, told Reuters that he had been in touch with Fawwaz’s UK lawyers, who he said had told him they had exhausted all efforts to fight his extradition, and he could arrive in the US in the next few weeks.

In a move regarded as sinister by some, Kirby’s request to be appointed as Fawwaz’s US defence lawyer has been denied by New York Judge Lewis Kaplan of Manhattan federal court. He told him to reapply once Fawwaz arrives—so, no guarantees Fawwaz is going to even get legal representation!

If Fawwaz is already being denied a lawyer before he arrives to the US, does this mean they’re going to fast track him Osama-style to execution?

As I say, I’ve no idea if Fawwaz is guilty or not—that should be determined in a fair trial, but the reality is such things do not exist in the current incendiary climate of America.

What I do know is that he was arrested in 1998, after moving to London in the 1990s from Kenya with his family. In the UK, he is alleged to have established an organization called the Advice and Reformation Committee, a political group supposedly headed by Bin Laden that was said to be campaigning for peaceful reform in Saudi Arabia.

US intelligence says Bin Laden, through Fawwaz, published several threats against the US in the 1990s for keeping troops in the Kingdom.

Fawwaz has always denied any involvement with Bin Laden and rejected allegations that the committee was a British arm of al-Qaida.

Now that US Navy Seals have assassinated a potential key witness—on the orders of their Commander in Chief Barack Obama—the defense has been denied amajor opportunity.

Evidence supplied by other witnesses has been done so under torture and is therefore unreliable and inadmissible in most courts of law around the world.

Ahmed Ghailani, a former bodyguard for Bin Laden, was sentenced to life in prison in January over the embassy bombings, following a six-week trial in Manhattan. He was the first former Guantánamo Bay detainee to face a civilian trial in the US and had undoubtedly endured torture en route to the dock.

Of course, before he had his trial, he was captured in 2004 in Pakistan after a battle with government troops and then sold like a commodity to US intelligence to be tortured. Unsurprisingly, he was later found guilty of being part of the plot in which hundreds of were killed in twin bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Four co-defendants of Ghailani were convicted of all charges, including joining an al-Qaida conspiracy to kill US nationals, during a 2001 trial in New York. All of this during a period when the use of torture was sanctioned and signed off by the then US President George W Bush and his cabal of neocons like Donald Rumsfeld.

It is worth remembering that both of these remnants of the US Administration, that launched the now discredited War on Terror, have to be careful where theytravel for fear they could end up in a court of law to answer for their sanctioning of torture and crimes against humanity.

In the light of recent events in Abbottabad, Pakistan every civilized country in the world must now suspend extradition proceedings with the USA and look for an alternative—maybe even The Hague.

Britain’s controversial extradition treaty with the US was brokered by a slavish Tony Blair Government and is deeply unpopular with British people, certainly no other country in the world signed such a deal which threatened sovereignty—it now needs to be scrapped by Cameron’s government soonest.

I don’t know the details of the evidence against the men in Long Lartin, men like Khalid al Fawwaz, but I do know every one of them would welcome his day in court—an open court where justice is seen to be done and where they have a right to a defense.

If we start handing over UK citizens and foreign nationals to a country that has no respect for international law, the Geneva and Vienna Conventions, and calls targeted assassination “justice” then we too become lawless by association.


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Obama snatches defeat from jaws of victory

As the news of Osama bin Laden’s death filtered out onto the streets of America it triggered unsightly scenes of undiluted hysteria, chest-thumping and back-slapping which has sadly become a trademark of the vengeful ‘hang’em high’ lobby that emerged from the rubble of 9/11.

And just like George W Bush did on that horrific day way back in 2001, US President Barack Obama unashamedly wallowed in a flag-waving, nationalistic wave of emotion, crowing about national unity and everyone pulling together as he revealed the manhunt for the world’s most wanted man had finally been concluded.

It mattered not the al-Qaida leader was unarmed – that detail was kept back as hugely distorted stories zoomed around the globe about how the evil Arab used his wife as a human shield while firing off rounds at the heroic soldiers who risked their all for Uncle Sam.

The naked display of uncontrollable gung-ho emotion was bad enough but then a smug-looking Obama began sounding like Glenn Ford in a scene from High Noon as he lectured the world about “justice being done”.

To quote my favourite journalist Gary Younge: “This was not justice, it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.”

Mercifully, in this sea of madness another sane voice in America also drowned out the hate-filled chorus and it came from an unlikely source – 9/11 survivor Harry Waizer.

If anyone had a right to jump up and down like a lunatic at the show of a full moon it was him, but instead of adding to the hatefest he said: “I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”

I hope now that America’s Number One Bogeyman is no more the USA returns to some semblance of normality that has been absent from its landscape since the now discredited War on Terror began.

And I hope that the US Administration will stop using the politics of fear on its own people who have been ruthlessly hyped up in to a state of advanced paranoia at every opportunity. High days and holidays have been blighted by accelerated levels of terror alerts while the latest airport scares and the latest suspect parcels have brought major cities and their transport networks to a halt.

While it is always dangerous to generalize the American people appear to have been kept suspended in fear ever since 9/11 – the reality is ordinary citizens have more chance of being shot in their backyard than be killed by a terrorist.

30,000 innocents die every year in gun-related crime – that’s a 9/11 multiplied by ten – but the close relationship with deadly weapons shows no sign of abating in trigger-happy America.

In terms of a violent society and armed citizens, the US is in a league of its own and sadly the state of disregard for the law and justice filters all the way down from The White House.

That the most powerful man in the world can stare straight into the cameras and say: “Justice was done” over Bin Laden’s murder borders on absurdity; it’s almost Pythonesque.

Real justice would have involved an arrest, a trial by jury and a sentence in an international court should the thought of holding him on USA soil prove too frightening.

Real justice would not have involved shooting an unarmed man in front of his wife and children – there were no bodyguards in the house in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Real justice would not have involved charging into someone else’s country with armed forces unannounced, if indeed that was really the case in Pakistan.

I’m surprised David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and other political leaders went into congratulatory mode in the House of Commons over the whole saga.

Had it not occurred to them that if OBL had chosen to hide out in Didsbury, Tooting or Chipping Norton then US Special Forces would have come into the UK all guns blazing?

I wonder would Cameron have gushed forth with undiluted praise then?

We don’t know who America’s next Bogeyman is going to be, but what if he does live in Britain or chooses to hide in the UK? What then? Do we sit back and allow America to breach our sovereignty in the name of US justice?

Are there any real guarantees that we won’t have US Navy Seals bursting into our neighbourhoods anytime soon?

OK, it’s highly unlikely but not impossible. This is what happens when there’s total disregard for international law, Vienna and Geneva conventions et al.

Distinguished QC Geoffrey Robertson is a man I’d like to lock in the Oval Office with the Commander in Chief for maybe 30 minutes. A renowned international human rights lawyer, he is not at all impressed by Obama’s interpretation of justice.

Writing about the OBL killing he said the law “permits criminals to be shot in self-defence. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive, if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how Bin Laden came to be shot (especially if it was in the back of the head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation. Why the hasty “burial at sea” without a post-mortem, as the law requires?”

Why indeed? The trouble is various US Administrations have lied to the world – lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, lied about the existence of WMD, lied about Saddam being in league with al-Qaida.

And the problem with serial liars is that when they do tell the truth no one believes them.

Once again America has managed to shoot itself in the foot in the name of justice – a justice that has earned the admiration and praise of the chairman of the Israeli parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security.

Shaul Mofaz of the right wing Kadima is now urging the Zionist Government to assassinate Palestinian leaders like the “US did with Osama bin Laden”.

He seems to have overlooked the fact that Israel has been “doing an Obama” for years as the leadership of Hamas can testify.

Nevertheless, it seems that even though international law prohibits the use of extra judicial assassination policies, various states of terror may now starting “Doing an Obama”.

After bringing an end to the biggest manhunt in US history, the US President has managed to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.


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The price of freedom

Faces of young men stared back at me from family portraits proudly hung in the central square Benghazi and what struck me was how young they were.

Just a few weeks ago I stood on a public platform and vigorously slammed proposals for Western military intervention in Libya.

The hasty scramble by the Americans, French and Brits lacked strategy and a clear goal.

To me it appeared to be yet another oil-fuelled, reckless act by gung-ho leaders who would end up being sucked in to a long military campaign as futile as the Bush-Blair adventures into Iraq and Afghanistan that we are still paying for in terms of wasted lives.

“Here we go again,” I said. “Another imperialistic adventure with the long-term aim of getting our grubby hands on other peoples’ oil.”

To those few Libyans present, I warned they would live to regret this pact with the West that I likened to jumping into bed with the Devil.

Being very conscious of the fact I’m not a Libyan and desperate at not wanting to be seen as another opinionated Westerner sticking my nose into matters I didn’t understand, I sought the views of many Libyan friends and contacts.

Their reaction was mixed, but more often than not I was told that without outside help the Libyan people would be slaughtered by Gaddafi who himself described those who opposed him as cockroaches that needed to be crushed.

To justify my stand I reasoned that all revolutions are bloody and that the heroic people of Tunisia and Egypt had paid the blood price in their hundreds to win freedom.

I even recounted Malcolm X telling people that if they were not prepared to die for it they should remove the word freedom from their vocabulary.

Of course making grand statements from platforms in central London is one thing but going to see for myself what was happening on the ground was something else.

My few days in Libya proved to be extremely humbling, illuminating and provided me with a reality check.

I was wrong about opposing military intervention. No if, buts or maybe – I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

The people of Libya would have been brutally crushed without mercy if the West had not responded to their cries for help.

Perhaps the greatest shame is that Arab leaders stood by emotionless as the Libyan people begged everyone and anyone for help to bring down Gaddafi.

Some of those Arab leaders had no such hesitation in answering cries for help from the oppressive royal regime in Bahrain … obviously the Saudis and rest of the GCC cabal felt uncomfortable helping to bring down an evil, brutal, dictator who routinely abused and oppressed his people while happily propping up another.

It could have been an opportunity for the rising regional power Turkey to step in to the breach but to the massive disappointment of the Libyan people Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to become embroiled.

So in the end the West did intervene and although the blood of innocents is still flowing in the streets at least it is not a torrent.

And maybe this is a war led by no one, with no particular aim but the enforcement of the No Fly Zone has prevented a massacre.

That is the view held by one of Libya’s spiritual leaders Sheikh Mohammed Bosidra who told me: “We had no choice. It was either make a pact with NATO or be crushed. It was a matter of survival, as simple as that.”

However many have already paid the ultimate blood price. Each town and city has a special place for its martyrs, and there are many. Faces of young men stared back at me from family portraits proudly hung in the central square Benghazi and what struck me was how young they were.

In Derna, more portraits of the sons of Omar Al-Mukhtar hung in the town centre and some of the bodies have been buried in a cemetery next to the tombs of three Sahaba and 70 other martyrs who fought against Roman and Byzantine forces in 692AD.

“We have a very fine tradition of producing martyrs in Derna and that is why Gaddafi hates the people of Derna more than anywhere else in Libya,” one woman told me.

And then she pointed to a French Tricolore and a Union Jack whispering: “Thankyou, we will never forget what you have done for us.”

I admit I felt uncomfortable, even a fraud, on several different levels by accepting her thanks. Usually I end up apologizing for the deeds of various British governments and Empire so this was something new for me.

We are still not clear what is the endgame of the NATO-led force, but the Libyan people are crystal clear in one thing: Gaddafi must go.

Only then can they begin to work out the next move, and it won’t be easy.

The Transitional National Council, says it is committed to liberate every part of Libya from Aamsaad in the east to Raas Ajdair in the west, and from Sirte in the north to Gatrun in the south.

But from what I could see the mission is unstable and unpredictable, chaotic, disorganised and confused.

However, what is undeniable is the bravery and courage of the Libyan people who we in the media routinely refer to as rebels … these people are not rebels. They are shopkeepers, students, doctors, businessmen and mechanics who have never owned a gun or wanted to pick one up in anger, until now.

And yet there they are, tens of thousands, prepared to die for freedoms and liberties they’ve never known in Gaddafi’s 41-year rule.

I was moved to tears by a regiment of young men who marched, rallied and chanted demanding to be sent to the front lines in Misrata to help their brothers in arms.

Their personally-delivered message in Benghazi was to the members of the interim government and they were extremely critical of some elements of the TNC who they said were more interested in parading around with bodyguards intoxicated with the little power they had than making real decisions.

The criticism of the leadership was stinging but reassuring that these young men were not blind to the shortcomings of their own. Too often in the Middle East people are blind and unquestioning in their loyalty to their leaders.

It is clear to me that once Gaddafi is gone – and he will go – that the Libyan people will not replace him with another tyrant or a Western puppet. Whatever government and constitution they choose will be one of their own making.

But first we in the West must give them all the help and support they need to accomplish the removal of Gaddafi until it is time for NATO to go in a dignified exit.

And who knows, for once, Western intervention might just be regarded as a force for good.


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The Sting of the Scorpion … Egypt’s Darkest Corner was the forerunner to Guantanamo

Welcome to Tora Land, declares the headline on a magazine rack which caught my eye as I was swept along in the rush hour inside Cairo’s chaotic train station.

The bold declaration on the glossy front page confirms two things. The first is that Egyptians have a great sense of humour and the second is that the Peoples’ Revolution continues to have a seismic impact on the country’s political landscape.

Tora is the name for a notorious prison complex on the outskirts of Cairo and since most of the former government – including Hosni Mubarak’s two sons – are now resident there you can begin to understand the tongue-in-cheek headline.

Everyday there are new arrests, new charges among the corrupt elite and it seems no one is immune from the Egyptian prosecutors.

This has, for many, turned in to a revolving door revolution as those once in prison for daring to stand up to Mubarak and his iron rule are now on the outside while their tormentors are replacing them behind bars.

It is indeed poetic justice … but sadly not for all; it seems there are some buried so deep inside the brutal prison system that they’ve been all but forgotten.

As the Egyptian Revolution hurtles breathlessly towards its 100th day there is still a group of prisoners who appear to have been abandoned in all of the excitement heralded by the arrival of the Arab Spring.

The forgotten few number just over 100 residents of Al’aqrab that, an Arab word which means the Scorpion.

It’s an apt name for a prison buried away in the desert sands that once concealed the treasures of Tutankhamun. Now those grains hide even more secrets that mask the real depth of wickedness and depravity plumbed by Egypt’s Last Pharaoh Hosni Mubarak.

The Scorpion Prison is a hellish institution that former prisoners told me became the blueprint for Guantanamo, the world’s most notorious jail.

In fact this is Egypt’s own version of Guantanamo.

The high security super max is two kilometres from the main entrance to the official Tora cluster of prisons where former government ministers now reside in comparative comfort.

Some of the monsters who served Mubarak will even have signed off on the torture endured by the Scorpion inmates whose day-to-day existence is quite different to those which house the Mubarak sons.

Many of the detainees have been held for years without trial or charge for simply expressing an opinion vocally or in written articles critical of Mubarak’s regime. Other were convicted of trying to overthrow Mubarak … the irony is that they did far less than those who rallied bravely in Tahrir Square just a few weeks back.

But while the revolutionaries are rewarded for heroic deeds and derring do with hard won freedoms and liberties, the 100 or so languishing behind the high walls of The Scorpion fear the have been completely forgotten.

Their voices remain unheard in the forboding complex hidden behind an imposing seven metre high wall that is protected by heavily fortified, armour-plated gates.

According to the Ikhwan website Al’aqrab was the brainchild of a group of officers who spent five years training in the US under  the FBI.

On their return the Scorpion and its H blocks were built and opened by May 30 in 1993.

Prison staff have the power to cut off water, light and electricity and close individual windows at the flick of a switch as punishment. Twenty other cells are used purely for solitary confinement.

It seems the ‘American idea’ worked so well that the Scorpion model was replicated in the spring of 2002 at the US military base Guantanamo Bay in Occupied Cuba.

As I relayed the description of its interior to Moazzam Begg, Director of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners, he winced in recognition. The layout was, indeed, familiar to the former ex-Guantanamo detainee who spent three years in the American version of The Scorpion.

Mubarak’s Ministry of Interior moved detainees from Liman, Istekbal Tora and Abu Zaabal to the new supermax jail and it is thought at one point around 20,000 so-called enemies of the state were being held without trial or charge.

But there could be other political prisoners held elsewhere in the prison system in Egypt – at this stage, we simply don’t know.

But rumours abound of what has gone on behind the high walls of The Scorpion even today and include harrowing tales of torture, abuse and years of solitary confinement without sunlight.

While all of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political prisoners have now been released from across Egypt the agony continues for the inmates of The Scorpion Prison that is so well hidden from the nearby Cairo-Alexandria desert highway and is about 20 kilometres south of the Egyptian capital.

Most of the men belong to the now defunct group Talae al-Fatah, Jihad, al-Gama’h Al Islamia and other Islamic groups and although the majority signed so-called “adoption of repentance papers” years ago they are still held with little or no  prospect of a trial.

Some have gone years without family visits, whipping, flogging and electric shock treatments as well as collective punishment has defined the “Scorpion Experience”. Of the 20,000 or so who have passed through its gates around 15 per cent are believed to have died.

The secretive and sinister Ministry of Interior has succeeded in hiding these men from the outside world in all that time but even today it seems justice is as elusive as ever.  Let’s hope they will soon be able to join in and enjoy the Arab Spring and celebrate the 100th day of the Egyptian Peoples’ Revolution – if justice is going to be one of the cornerstones then the sooner these men are set free or put on trial the better.


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Hijab makes a return in Tunisia

Something really wonderful happened outside the Tunisian Embassy in London the other day as a crowd of us gathered to continue the demand for justice in the people’s revolution.

I was standing next to a woman, and, with tears in her eyes she revealed she had been inside the embassy that morning to get passports for herself and her family. Her face looked vaguely familiar but I could not remember where we had met previously.

Just a few weeks ago she would not have been allowed to put one foot over the threshold but this time she was welcomed like a long lost daughter and given the red carpet treatment by the embassy staff – one even asked if she wanted to meet the Ambassador.

The more she talked the more I knew that we had met previously, but where?

Then we began speculating about the deposed dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his truly awful wife Leila who, we now know thanks to Wikileaks, fancied her chances of becoming the next leader of Tunisia when her ageing husband either stood down or expired.

We both laughed at the irony of the location of their current bolt-hole … Saudi Arabia, The Land of the Two Holy Mosques and wondered how Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi were coping with hearing the athan, or call to prayer, five times a day.

They had banned the athan from being played on state television, shunned fasting during Ramadahn and dismissed the hijab as being a foreign import and not part of the Tunisian culture.

Let’s just say they made it up as they went along and if they wanted fatwas they would wheel out their tame and obliging $cholars for Dollars.

Ben Ali, a brute of a man who made words and phrases like torture, detention without trial, political and religious persecution commonplace in Tunisia, is also credited with ripping off the hijabs from the heads of Muslim women. He banned them from wearing their scarves in schools, hospitals and universities and other public places.

He saw that the Holy Quran was banned and desecrated in the cages and dungeons where prisoners of conscience are beaten if they dared to pray outside of allotted times.

His brutal regime brought in happy clappy clerics whose narcotic-style preachings in praise of Ben Ali and his corrupt government certainly had the desired effect … it drove God-fearing worshippers out of the mosques.

No wonder the Muslim youth no longer clamoured to get into masjids on Fridays to listen to these khateebs who spent half the khutbah praising the President and his followers.

To our Christian friends, put it this way – can you imagine sitting in a church pew listening to some vicar or priest urging you to thank God for Tony Blair, George W Bush or Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheyney? Exactly!

My sister and I both wondered how Leila would view having to wear a black abaya, all enveloping cloak and veil, every time she steps outside her new home in Jeddah. I’m sure the Saudi religious police will be on hand to give the former hairdresser some encouragement.

Of all the places in the world those two had probably expected to end up I think it’s a fair bet Saudi was no where near the top of their list as they boarded the flight from Tunisia.

In fact what wouldn’t I have given to see the expressions on their faces as the pilot delivered the bad news. Sorry, we can’t get clearance for London, Paris, New York, Monaco or Geneva but how does Jeddah sound?

It was Ben Ali’s barbaric actions and abuse of the most basic human rights which prompted me to first go and stand outside the Tunisian Embassy in London way back in November 2006 and protest in defence of our Tunisian sisters … and their right to practice Islam.

This man and his godless wife despised the religion of their birth so much and everything it represented that they did their best to turn the country in to a secular state.

Did they do it to please themselves or the western powers which courted them and pretended to be their best ever friends?

I remember in February 2009 driving through Tunisia with the Viva Palestina convoy encountering literally hundreds of Ben Ali’s henchmen who did everything in their power to stop us from praying and attending Friday prayers.

The horrified expressions on their faces when we stopped our vehicles in the middle of the road and prayed in the street is something I will remember for ever.

I recounted the tale to the sister outside the embassy and again we both laughed at the ultimate irony Ben Ali and the light-fingered Leila (she is reported to have looted 1.5 tons of gold as she fled) were now languishing in Saudi.

How poignant, having been shunned by their fickle friends in the West,  it was Muslims who came to their rescue. Forgiveness is a major element in Islam and while it is far too early for Tunisians to even begin to think about that F-word, the ex-president and his wife should be grateful that some Muslims are prepared to show them the sort of mercy Ben Ali and Leila could never show their own people.

Now that he, in particular, has time to reflect on the brutalisation of hijab-wearing sisters, practising brothers and human rights campaigners, I wonder if he will discover the beauty of real Islam and not the distorted, diluted version he tried to force on his people?

I turned to the woman outside the embassy and wondered out loud if Leila will ever discover the beauty of the hijab. The words were barely out of my mouth when I suddenly recognized this woman.

We had first met in 2006, outside the Tunisian Embassy in London, at a protest. She had told me at the time in graphic detail of her own detention, abuse and torture at the hands of Ben Ali’s thugs.

I will never forget her dramatic words back then as she said in a shakey voice: “I came to London with my hijab still in my pocket.” I remember being moved to tears by her story.

And now she is planning to return but with her head held high and wearing her hijab with pride.


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Tonight we are all Tunisians

Over the last few days we have seen some of the bravest people facing down some of the worst.

Armed with nothing more than a revolutionary heart and hopes of a better future they gathered and protested as government forces aimed their weapons and fired live rounds in to the crowds.

But the ammunition and the underlying threats of arrest and torture meant absolutely nothing to the masses – for they had simply lost their fear.

It was the final testament to the brutality of a dictator who has had the support of European leaders and various presidents of the United States.

And that the Tunisian President Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali fled from his country like a rat up a drainpipe after 23 brutal years spoke volumes about the character of the man himself.

If he had one ounce of the courage his own people displayed, he too would have stayed but most of these tyrants are gutless with the moral fiber of a dung beetle.

The demise of Ben Ali came when police prevented an unemployed 26-year-old graduate from selling fruit without a license. Mohammad Bouazizi turned himself in to a human torch on December 17 and died of the horrific burns in Sidi Bouzid, in central Tunisia.

It was the final straw, a defining moment which ignited rallies, marches and demonstrations across Tunisia.

And revelations from Wikileaks cables exposing the corrupt and extravagant lifestyle of Ben Ali and his grasping wife fanned the flames of unbridled anger from a people who were also in the grip of poverty.

I knew it was coming. I saw the burning desire for freedom in the eyes of the courageous people of Ghafsa when the Viva Palestina Convoy entered the country in February 2009 on its way to Gaza.

Our convoy witnessed the menacing secret police intimidate the crowds to stop them from gathering to cheer us on.

This vast army of spies, thugs and enforcers even tried to stop us from praying in a local mosque

That they stood their ground to cheer us on prompted me to leave my vehicle and hug all the women who had turned out. We exchanged cards and small gifts and then, to my horror, I discovered 24 hours later that every woman I had embraced in the streets of Gafsa had been taken away and questioned.

Human rights organizations have constantly condemned and exposed the brutality of the Ben Ali regime but that has not led America and European leaders to intervene or put pressure on the regime to stop the brutality.

Sadly, it serves western interests to have a people brutalized and subjugated.

Now Tunisia is minus one dictator but it is still in a state of emergency. The next few days and weeks are going to be crucial for the Tunisian people who deserve freedom and liberty. My God, they’ve paid for it with their own blood and we must always remember their martyrs.

None of the politicians, secret police or other odious government forces will emerge from this period with any honor and quite a few are already cowering in the shadows.

But perhaps the biggest show of cowardice in this whole sorry episode has come from The White House.

Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women and children in recent weeks.

And news of the corrupt, mafia-like regime would not have come as a surprise to either of them. We know this thanks to the Wikileaks cables written by US Ambassador Robert Godec who revealed in one memo: “Corruption in the inner circle is growing.”

But, as the injustices and atrocities continued there was not one squeak from the most powerful nation on earth … until America’s dear friend, Ben Ali had scuttled from the country.

The reality is the US Administration likes dealing with tyrants and even encourages despotic behavior. Egypt is one of the biggest testaments to this with its prisons full of political opposition leaders. Hosni Mubarak is Uncle Sam’s enforcer and biggest recipient of aid next to the Zionist State.

Pakistan’s treatment of its own people is little better. Remember when US Ambassador Anne Patterson in Islamabad wrote in one Wikileaks cable about the human rights abuses carried out by the Pakistan military? Patterson then went on to advise Washington to avoid comment on these incidents.

But now the US has made a comment on the situation in Tunisia … but only when Ben Ali was 30,000 feet in the air did White House spokesman Mike Hammer issue a statement which read: “We condemn the ongoing violence against civilians in Tunisia, and call on the Tunisian authorities to fulfill the important commitments … including respect for basic human rights and a process of much-needed political reform.”

Unbelievable. Too little, too late, Mr President. Actually that statement could have been uttered any time during the last US presidencies since Ronald Reagan.

But as I say, America couldn’t give a stuff about the human rights of the people of the Maghreb, Pakistan, Egypt and Palestine to name but a few.

When US condemnation finally came through the tyrant had fled leaving behind more than 60 civilian martyrs and countless more injured.

Tomorrow I will go to the Tunisian Embassy in London as I have done previously and stand shoulder to shoulder with my Tunisian brothers and sisters and their supporters. We will remember the dead, we will pay tribute to the brave and courageous many who are still in the process of seizing back their country and we will pray that no tyrant will sleep easy in his bed from this moment on.

Tonight we are all Tunisians.


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Friendless, homeless and humiliated - dictators take note

He might still be living in the lap of luxury, but make no mistake Tunisia's former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family are prisoners.

Like birds in a guilded cage, they are languishing in a palace in one of the most exclusive districts of Jeddah but the truth is Ben Ali and his equally odious and corrupt family have nowhere else to hide.

It should signal a warning to all the other despots and dictators in the region – Egypt in particular – that no matter how close you think you are to the West, in times of trouble they will drop you faster than a burning coal.

As one of the cruelest oppressors on the planet scrambled to board a plane to escape what some may consider a well deserved lynching, the truth is he had no idea where he was going.

So fast was his demise.

We were told he was heading for Malta, then France and Dubai and half a dozen other countries but the truth is no one wanted the 74-year-old.

A desperate man, he finally found a bolthole in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Friday, arriving around midnight after close ally President Nicholas Sarkozy rejected a request for his plane to land on french soil.

Meanwhile frantic calls to the White House hotline and to Obama rang unanswered.

Once again America has proved itself to be a fickle friend just as the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi discovered when he went in to exile after his repressive regime in Iran was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The former Shah spent his exile in Egypt, totally isolated and shunned by the very same leaders in the West who had once supported him.

The Saudi government refuses to say how long he will be their guest but I like to think the many soldiers posted outside the palace's half dozen or so gates are not there for his protection but there to ensure he remains within the high sided walls. 

Quite how this secular leader will settle in the land of the Two Holy Mosques is beyond me. Ben Ali despised Islam to such an extent he made sure his brutal enforcers abused and punished those God-fearing Tunisians who wore hijabs and grew beards.

For instance, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Secretary-General of Tunisia's ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, stated several years ago that they were so concerned about rise in the use of the hijab by women and girls and beards and the qamis (knee-level shirts) by men, that they called for a strict implementation of decree 108 of 1985 of the Ministry of Education banning the hijab at educational institutions and when working in government.

Police ordered women to remove their head scarfs before entering schools, universities or work places and others were made to remove them in the street. Amnesty International reported at the time that some women were being arrested and taken to police stations where they were forced to sign written commitment to stop wearing the hijab.

Perhaps someone should remind the Saudis about that and have him charged under Shari'a law just for starters.

Ben Ali's hatred and fear of Islam can also be witnessed in Egypt where Hosni Mubarak rules with an iron fist. The prisons and dungeons of Egypt are jammed full of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissenting voices and political opponents who are rounded up everytime an election is in the offing.

Mubarak's betrayal of the Palestinian people and his irrational fear of Hamas speaks volumes also about his secular outlook and lifestyle which is at odds with Islam.

I was asked to leave Cairo in December 2009 by his Foreign Ministry after writing an article in which I said Mubarak had turned Egypt into America's rent boy in the Middle East because of the huge sums of money he willingly took from the US in return for oppressing the people of Gaza and supporting Israel.

But now he must be wondering if bending over a barrel for Uncle Sam is really a price worth paying.

After all, no one grovelled more to America than Ben Ali. In 2005 he was even ordered to extend the hand of friendship to the Zionist State, a country which had bombed his own when Yasser Arafat's PLO was headquartered in Tunis in 1986.

Did he object? No, in fact Ben Ali went one step further and invited the war criminal Ariel Sharon to visit Tunisia. Well, where has all that craven behaviour got him? 

Just like the previous Tunisian tyrant, he happily kissed the rump of Zionists while belly-dancing in front of Western leaders who claimed to be among his closest allies.

Well, just where are his friends now?

He's friendless, homeless and humiliated.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Womens Union. She travelled extensively through Tunisia in February 2009 with the Viva Palestina convoy.


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Jack attack on Pakistani community is the last straw

Has an open season of hate been declared on the Pakistani community in Britain?

I have to ask after listening to a former Labour minister’s astonishing attack on young, Pakistani men in recent days.

Using the same obscene politics of race – which cost neighbouring ex-MP Phil Woolas his seat – Jack Straw launched what I can only describe as a hateful blast on the Pakistani community in Britain.

The former UK foreign and home secretary accused some Pakistani men of seeing white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse.

In a speech which could have come from the pages of a BNP election leaflet, the Blackburn MP talked of a “specific problem” involving Pakistani men and called on the community to be “more open” about the issue.

All of this occurred only days before a crucial by-election in Britain in a constituency where the predominant minority community hails from Pakistan.

He launched his astonishing attack after two Asian men subjected a series of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults. The two were, quite rightly, given indefinite jail terms. Personally, I thought life sentences would have been more appropriate for what they did.

Abid Mohammed Saddique, 27, was jailed for a minimum of 11 years at Nottingham Crown Court and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, 28, was told he must serve at least eight years before being considered for release. They were the leaders of a gang who befriended girls aged from 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.

As a journalist of more than 35 years, I’ve sat through countless court cases and trials and listened to similar, horrific stories pour forth. As long as there are vulnerable young women, of no particular faith and skin colour, they will be targeted by criminally-driven men of no particular faith and skin colour.

Having lived in Soho, London’s so-called red light district for two decades, I’ve watched the prostitution and drug rings change hands from the control of English to Maltese to Turkish to Albanian male gangs.

Their motivation is money and their victims are always the same … young, vulnerable women and occasionally young men. Skin colour is of no significance. This is not a white on black crime, or a black on Asian crime or anything to do with race or culture and to suggest otherwise leads us down a dangerous path of politics and race. It is a well trodden path which still bears the footprint of the Nazi jackboot.

Yet this did not stop Straw telling the BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme on Friday that there was a “specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men… who target vulnerable young white girls.”

Having lit the touch paper he went on, “We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way.”

Warming to the theme, he then became more sensational in his thoughts on Sky TV news as he described Pakistani men who were “fizzing and popping with testosterone” who considered vulnerable white girls as “easy meat.”

Don’t all young men fizz and pop with testosterone? Wasn’t there some fizzing and popping going on when a very attractive Daily Mirror, blonde, blue-eyed female journalist offered his teenage son some drugs in a bar? Remember that one, Jack?

And if this is such a serious problem in the Pakistani communities, why on earth is Straw just raising it now? Why did he not raise it a decade ago, 20 years ago or even two years ago with the senior leaders in Blackburn’s Pakistani community? Why now?

The reason is simple – there is a by-election down the road in Oldham.

Incidentally, this is where disgraced Labour politician Phil Woolas was kicked out because he lied in his election campaign literature using the politics of race and religion to oil the wheels of one of the most odious election campaigns in British history.

And now Straw is using the same style of tactics.

The judge in the trial said he did not believe the crimes were “racially aggravated,” but this did not stop Straw from steam-rollering ahead saying he thought vulnerable white girls were at risk of being targeted by some Asian men.

His remarks have drawn condemnation and criticism from senior Labour colleague Keith Vaz – who said it was wrong to “stereotype a whole community” and he naturally asked why the ex-home secretary had not spoken out previously.

The Leicester East MP, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he did not believe there was a “cultural problem” and called for a high-level investigation of such grooming across the UK.

At least there is at least one sane politician left in the Labour Party and I would urge others to come out and condemn Straw’s statements, but they might wait until after the Oldham by-election.

Former British Government minister Phil Woolas was finally rumbled for playing the race and religion card in a political game which has fuelled Islamaphobia in the UK last year.

Two high court judges ordered that his election as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth was “void.” Woolas was brought before the court on accusations of stirring up racial hatred and seizing on anti-Muslim sentiment in Oldham by claiming that his rival endorsed a Muslim campaign to remove him.

His campaign was aimed to “make white folks angry” at his opponent, the Liberal Democrat’s Elwyn Watkins, as part of a desperate bid to retain his seat in the run up to the May 2010 general election. Whipping up hysteria and rhetoric that could make him a Tea Party candidate in America, Woolas was barred from the House of Commons and ordered to pay £5,000 and costs to Mr Watkins.

The reality is Woolas had previously triggered a new, New Labour strategy which sought to encourage columns and online blogs written by aggressive secularists and so-called progressives to make Islam-bashing trendy. It was a poison which began creeping in to newspaper and magazine columns as well.

Those driven by racism also joined in the fun seeing Islamophobia as the last legitimate refuge to peddle their race-fueled hate. Phil Woolas was the man responsible for making Islamaphobia a national sport and while I’m sure he will be repulsed by the activities of the British National Party and the English Defence League they thrived in this atmosphere.

Woolas then became more specific in his targeting … the Pakistani community.

He created hysterical headlines about “Muslim inbreeding” with his comments about the health risks of cousin marriages among Pakistanis. The way he spoke about the issue was as though some Frankenstein-like creatures were filling the baby wards in maternity hospitals around Oldham, Bradford, Burnley, Blackburn and Birmingham.

I know the Pakistani community very well and 99 per cent hold dear the same family values which were once evident in British communities before binge drinking, promiscuity and pill-popping became so commonplace.

The Pakistani parents in Oldham share the same concerns as their white counterparts and if we could bring the two communities together they would be united in a common cause to protect their children from drugs, crime and other evils.

Instead Labour politicians like Straw are manipulating Oldham’s voters by trading on fear and hatred and the cynical exploitation of this horrendous trial serves only to keep the white and Pakistani communities apart.

I was hoping the downfall of Woolas would serve as a salutory warning to all of those who indulged in the fascist politics of race, religion and fear but I was wrong.

A new election has brought in the same old hate and rhetoric designed to polarize communities.

Sections of the Labour Party are once again ruthlessly deploying the politics of fascism to win popular votes and approval. This is the same opportunist way that Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party made inroads in Austria as did Pim Fortuyn’s List Party in Holland. Geert Wilders went on to take the hate to new levels.

To all the Oldham voters I would urge you not to allow politicians like Jack Straw to cynically drive this ugly bandwagon of race hate through your community.

The by-election in Oldham is incredibly important – please use your vote, use it wisely and whoever or whatever you vote for make it clear you will not bow down to the politics of hate and fear.


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US Justice sucks

America’s international standing as a fair and just country does not match its superpower status as the world's greatest democracy.

When it comes to basic human rights it is there in the gutter alongside some of the world's most toxic, tinpot dictatorships and authoritarian regimes.

So there's little surprise that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange fears being extradited to The States where some politicians and Pentagon officials have already called for his execution and Attorney General Eric Holder admits his government may invoke the US Espionage Act.

But it's not just the persecution and the prosecution Assange should fear, either – the wheels of justice can be agonisingly slow in a process which could take years. And in the case of the Guantanamo detainees there is no end in sight – the majority of them have not been charged but simply forgotten.

Having stepped inside US prisons – both military and civilian – I can tell you there is nothing civilised about the penal institutions in the United States.

Four days of filming inside Guantanamo and half a day at one of California’s largest young offenders prisons provided me with enough material to reach this conclusion, bearing in mind as a journalist I was just shown “the good bits”!

Having also viewed CCTV footage of detainees in US institutions being strip and cavity searched was equally traumatic and for those who showed the slightest resistance a procedure would follow which in my view is tantamount to gang rape.

Frankly, I was appalled by what I saw inside American jails and the interviews and research which followed did not make easy reading.

I wondered how the US could really describe itself as a civilised, mature democracy.

And if you doubt my judgment here are a few statistics to play with in a prison system where 70 per cent of the inmates are non-whites.

* The US has a higher percentage of its citizenry in prison than any other country in history.

* 25 percent of the world’s prison population – around 2.3 million – are caged in America.

* More than a quarter of US inmates are black males between the ages of 20 and 39 and over the course of a lifetime, 28 percent of all black American men will have spent some time behind bars in what can only be described as a racist-driven judicial system.

As 2011 dawns the British Prime Minister David Cameron is faced with some hard choices this year, none more difficult than probably deciding whether or not to scrap our extradition treaty with the US and refuse to hand over a group of British citizens to Barak Obama’s America.

And make no mistake, if he wanted to, he could tell the Obama Administration to “get stuffed”. His coalition government is stronger than the previous Labour governments  … under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown human rights, civil liberties and freedoms were diminished both at home and abroad.

It was Blair’s government that introduced the one-sided 2003 Extradition Treaty to please and appease the Bush Administration. Legislation drawn up in panic and haste is never a good idea nor was it wise to allow America to extend its jurisdiction in to the UK for that is exactly what has happened. And I wonder if the legislation was really drawn up by UK lawyers since a close inspection of the original documents reveal the liberal use of American English.

I would urge Cameron to resist all of the existing US Extradition requests just as he would if the same demands were being made by some Banana Republic.

This has nothing to do with innocence or guilt, by the way, but everything to do with the just treatment of human beings – justice should be meted out equally, without fear or favour but in America the accused are often judged by the colour of their skin, religion and class.

The evidence is there for all to see – America’s human rights record is appalling, the prison system is a disgrace and the way it treats its own convicted citizens, let alone foreigners, is primitive.

Gareth Peirce, an internationally acclaimed and respected solicitor based in London explains in her book Dispatches from the Dark Side: “Guilty pleas resolve 97% of US trials, an extraordinary statistic inevitably achieved by the defendant's apprehension of what lies ahead – not just for the 'worst of the worst' – and a desire to avoid, at any cost, the US law's most extreme application.”

A number of her clients including Syed Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Adel Abdel Bary and Khalid al-Fawwaz have been held in British prisons for a record amount of years fighting extradition to the US.

All of these men protest their innocence and would welcome their day in court – a British court. However the evidence against them is either so flimsy or non existent that police in the UK have no intention of wasting public money on trials which will end up being laughed out of court.

Which takes us back to the 2003 US Extradition agreement in which the Blair government tied the hands of the UK judiciary beyond sound judgment. Now any slight allegation made by the US should be regarded in British courts as solid proof.

By the way it’s not a two-way system. Should the UK ever wish to extradite a US citizen the evidence supplied must be well documented, concrete and factual and able to withstand the scrutiny of a US judge.

Britain’s legal system became the basis for most others in the world. It is based on presumed innocence and a trial by a jury of one’s peers which emanates from our rights as set out in the Magna Carta of 1215, a noble document which has stood the test of time.

The 2003 extradition treaty is a complete betrayal of those basic rights. A victim of the treaty faces being locked up without evidence and has no right to a trial by jury and gone is the presumption of innocence.  

We cannot allow anyone in UK custody or under 'house arrest' like Julian Assange to be extradited to the US. You just have to look at the treatment of its own citizens to realise this.

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old US Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has been held in solitary confinement for the last seven months, despite not having been convicted of any crime.

Manning has been kept alone in a cell for 23 hours a day, barred from exercising in that cell, deprived of sleep, and denied even a pillow or sheets for his bed. Unsurprisingly he now relies on anti-depressants to cope with the effects of isolation. No date for a court hearing has been set.

Make no mistake, this sort of treatment is torture and we, as a civilised nation can not send anyone in to the hands of the US judicial system which openly tortures its own citizens as well as others.

By the time his brains are completely scrambled and he’s addicted to his medication I'm sure some sleazy, government prosecutor will offer him a plea bargain which is another disgraceful and routine feature of US justice. In exchange for dishing the dirt, real or imagine, on Julian Assange, Manning will be pressurised to cut a deal.

I would urge the British Prime Minister to tear up the 2003 extradition treaty now, tell Obama to get stuffed and instruct the Foreign Office to issue a travel warning advisory for any UK citizens contemplating a trip to America.


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How I came to love the veil

Politicians and journalists just love to write about the oppression of women in Islam ... without even talking to the females beneath the veil.

They simply have no idea how Muslim women are protected and respected within the Islamic framework which was built more than 1400 years ago.

Yet, by writing about cultural issues like child brides, female circumcision, honor killings and forced marriages they wrongly believe they are coming from a point of knowledge.

And I am sick of Saudi Arabia being cited as an example of how women are subjigated in a country where they are banned from driving.

The issues above have simply nothing to do with Islam yet they still write and talk about them with an arrogant air of authority while wrongly blaming Islam. Please do not confuse cultural behavior with Islam.

I was asked to write about how Islam allows men to beat their wives. Sorry, not true. Yes, I'm sure critics of Islam will quote random Qur'anic verses or ahadith but all are usually taken out of context. If a man does raise a finger to his wife, he is not allowed to leave a mark on her body ... this is another way of the Qur'an saying; "Don't beat your wife, stupid".

Now let's take a glance at some really interesting statistics, hmm. I can almost hear the words pot, kettle, black. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, four million American women experience a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period.

On the average, more than three women are murdered by their husbands and boyfriends every day . . . that is nearly 5,500 women battered to death since 9/11.

Some might say that is a shocking indictment on such a civilized society, but before I sound too smug, I would say that violence against women is a global issue. Violent men do not come in any particular religious or cultural category. The reality is that one out of three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Violence against women transcends religion, wealth, class, skin color and culture.

However, until Islam came on the scene women were treated as inferior beings. In fact we women still have a problem in the West where men think they are superior. This is reflected in our promotion and wages structure right across the spectrum from cleaners to career women who make it into the boardroom.

Western women are still treated as commodities, where sexual slavery is on the rise, disguised under marketing euphemisms, where womens’ bodies are traded throughout the advertising world. As mentioned before, this is a society where rape, sexual assault, and violence on women is commonplace, a society where the equality between men and women is an illusion, a society where a womens’ power or influence is usually only related to the size of her breasts.

I used to look at veiled women as quiet, oppressed creatures and now I look at them as multi-skilled, multi-talented, resilient women whose brand of sisterhood makes Western feminism pale into insignificance. My views changed after the truly terrifying experience of being arrested by the Taleban for sneaking into Afghanistan in September 2001 wearing the bhurka.

During my 10-day captivity I struck a deal that if they let me go I would read the Quran and study Islam. Against all the odds, it worked and I was released. In return I kept my word but as a journalist covering the Middle East I realized I needed to expand my knowledge of a religion which was clearly a way of life.

And no. I'm not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. To be a victim you have to bond with your captors. During my imprisonment I spat, swore, cursed and abused my jailers as well as refusing their food and going on hunger strike. I don't know who was happier when I was released - them or me!

Reading the Quran was, I thought, going to be a very simple academic exercise. I was stunned to discover that ut clearly stated women are equal in spirituality, education and worth. A woman’s gift for child birth and child-rearing is very much recognised as a quality and attribute. Muslim women say with pride they are homemakers and housewives.

Furthermore The Prophet (pbuh) said that the most important person in the home was The Mother, The Mother, The Mother. In fact he also said that heaven lies at the feet of the mother. How many women make it into the top 100 power lists for simply being a "great mother"?

With Islam choosing to remain at home and raise children takes on a new dignity and respect in my eyes, similar to those sisters among us who choose to go out to work and have careers and professions.

I then began looking at inheritance, tax, property and divorce laws. This is where Hollywood divorce lawyers probably get their inspiration from. For instance the woman gets to keep what she earns and owns while the man has to stump up half his worth.

Isn’t it funny the way the tabloid media gets very excited over the prospect of some pop or film stars pre-nuptial wedding agreement? Muslim women have had wedding contracts from day one. They can choose if they want to work or not and anything they earn is theirs to spend while the husband has to pay for all the household bills and the upkeep of his family.

Just about everything that feminists strived for in the 70s was already available to Muslim women 1400 years ago.

As I said, Islam dignifies and brings respect to motherhood and being a wife. If you want to stay at home, stay at home. It is a great honor to be a home maker and the first educater of your children

But equally, the Quran states if you want to work, then work. Be a career woman, learn a profession become a politician. Be what you want to be and excel in what you do as a Muslim because everything you do is in praise of Allah (swt).

There is an excessive, almost irritating concentration or focus on the issue of Muslim womens’ dress particularly by men (both Muslim and non-Muslim).

Yes, it is an obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly but, in addition, there are many other important issues which concern Muslim women today.

And yet everyone obsesses over the hijab. Look, it is part of my business suit. This tells you I am a Muslim and therefore I expect to be treated with respect.

Can you imagine if someone told a Wall Street executive or Washington banker to put on a t-shirt and jeans? He would tell you his business suit defines him during work hours, marks him out to be treated seriously.

And yet in Britain we have had the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw describing the nikab - the face veil revealing only the eyes - as an unwelcome barrier. When, oh when, will men learn to keep their mouths shut over a woman's wardrobe?

We also had Government Ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid express disparaging remarks about the nikab - both these men come from over the Scottish Borders where men wear skirts!!

Then we had a series of other parliamentarians enter the fray describing the nikab as a barrier for communication. What a load of nonsense. If this was the case can anyone explain to me why cell phones, landlines, emails, text messaging and fax machines are in daily use? Who listens to the radio? No one switches off the wireless because they can not see the face of the presenter.

The majority of sisters I know who choose to wear the nikab are actually white, Western reverts who no longer want the unwelcome attention of those few leering men who will try and confront females and launch into inappropriate behavior. Mind you, there are a couple of London sisters I know who say they wear the nikab at anti-war marches because they can't stand the smell of spliffs.

I am afraid Islamophobia has become the last refuge of the racist scoundrel. But the cowardly, chauvinistic attacks launched - largely by men - is unacceptable to Muslimahs as well as their secular, female sisters from the left.

I was a feminist for many years and now, as an Islamic feminist, I still promote womens' rights. The only difference is Muslim feminists are more radical than their secular counterparts. We all hate those ghastly beauty pageants, and tried to stop laughing when the emergence of Miss Afghanistan in bikini was hailed as a giant leap for women's liberation in Afghanistan.

I've been back to Afghanistan many times and I can tell you there are no career women emerging from the rubble in Kabul. My Afghan sisters say they wish the West would drop its obsession with the bhurka. "Don't try turning me into a career woman, get my husband a job first. Show me how I can send my children to school without fear of them being kidnapped. Give me security and bread on the table," one sister told me.

Young feminist Muslimahs see the hijab and the nikab as political symbols as well as a religious requirement. Some say it is their way of showing the world they reject the excesses of Western lifestyles such as binge drinking, casual sex, drug-taking etc.

Superiority in Islam is accomplished through piety, not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.

Now you tell me what is more liberating. Being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your cosmetically enhanced breasts, or being judged on your character, mind and intelligence?

Glossy magazines tell us as women that unless we are tall, slim and beautiful we will be unloved and unwanted. The pressure on teenage magazine readers to have a boyfriend is almost obscene.

Islam tells me that I have a right to an education and it is my duty to go out and seek knowledge whether I am single or married.

No where in the framework of Islam are we told as women that we must do washing, cleaning or cooking for men - but it is not just Muslim men who need to re-evaluate women in their home. Check out this 1992 exert from a Pat Robertson speech revealing his views on empowered women. And then you tell me who is civilized and who is not.


Here is an American man living in a pre-Islamic age who needs to modernize and civilize. People like him are wearing a veil and we need to tear that veil of bigotry away so people can see Islam for what it is.


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Sarkozy – The naked truth

Political opportunist Nicolas Sarkozy forgot three fundamental lessons when he decided to denounce the burka.

The first one is that men should stay well clear of becoming embroiled in expressing opinions on women’s clothes, unless of course you happen to be called Lacroix, Gaultier, Lagerfeld or Ghesquiere.

This was a lesson learned the hard way by former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who was pilloried when he questioned the nikab after asking a female constituent to lift her veil so he could see her face.

Could you imagine him making the same request of any female members of the Saudi royal household during one of his galloping missions to the Middle East?

Foolishly Scotsmen Gordon Brown and John Reid, hailing from a country where men wear pleated skirts and paint their faces blue, then waded in with the grace of a couple of dancing bears.

Even the Bishop of Rochester – a man who wears a pointy hat and a purple dress – chipped in his dislike of the nikab, full face veil or burka.

Of course they were all despatched very quickly by Muslim women in Britain who proved themselves to be anything but oppressed, subjugated creatures. And just to show there’’s real solidarity across women of faith and no faith, quite a few western feminists expressed their disdain at Straw and co while standing shoulder to shoulder with their Muslim sisters.

The second lesson is try and be sincere if you are taking up a cause. Sarkozy feigned his utmost respect for women by saying he felt the burka represented the unacceptable symbol of women’’s enslavement – today I can unveil him to be a purveyor of weasel words.

If he really cared about the subjugation of women he would seriously tackle the appalling levels of domestic violence French women suffer at the hands of French men – two million are victims of bullying, violent partners … a staggering 400 are murdered by their spouse.

So how many women in France actually wear the burka? The answer is a very tiny minority – so much so that when the BBC’’s Emma Jane Kirby went to interview a burka-wearing woman in Paris she couldn’t find a single one!

The former BBC’’s Europe correspondent went to the Muslim quarter in the capital but all she could find were lots of women of North African origin wearing hijabs. She was given blank expressions and shrugs of the shoulder when she asked if any of them knew women who wore burkas – and the local Islamic dress shops didn’t stock any.

The legend Kafirkozy!
So why would Sarkozy launch such an onslaught on the burka, describing Muslim women who wear it as ‘ “prisoners behind a grille, cut off from social life, deprived of their identity’?

As pointed out by one Islamic observer: ‘“The irony is that many Muslim women would say the current headscarf ban in France has created exactly this situation for them”’.

Well the real reason had nothing to do with the burka and everything to do with Sarkozy putting pressure on the Liberal Left, throwing a few cheap shots at the expense of Muslim women while trying to pick up a few votes at their expense as well.

Sarkozy, like many male politicians, is pretty gutless so in a pathetic attempt to disguise his real motivations in wanting to pick up votes, he invents a proposed ban of the burka as a defence of women’s rights. This, he knows will go down well with the French electorate who see veiled women as a threat to their liberal self esteem.

Using women to win votes is a common political ploy – I remember when Tony Blair and George W Bush claimed their invasion in Afghanistan was in defence of women’s rights and designed to liberate Afghan women.

Those two even used and pushed their own doting wives to stand in front of the world’’s media to justify their husband’’s invasion of the country – on a recent visit I can tell you there are few career women emerging from the rubble of Kabul.

So next time a politician tries to drive through any form of controversial measure or make a spectacular announcement, please don’t fall for the mealy-mouthed excuse that they’’re doing it for the liberation of women and/or ethnic minority groups.

Reading the weekend newspaper opinion pages and columnists, I was amazed at how many supposedly intelligent, feministas fell for the Sarkozy bull. But they did – hook, line and sinker exhibiting an astonishing shallowness in their writing.

I genuinely have a feeling Sarkozy is one of these weak-kneed, lily-livered men who trembles at the thought of empowered women. And I think the sight of a woman in a burka makes him feel inferior.

Could it be that because his wife – as beautiful as she is – has bared all for every man on the planet to ogle, that the very sight of a burka-clad female makes him feel insecure in his own relationship?

As any European schoolboy can testify from the pictures Blu-tacked to his ceiling, to the crumpled, sticky torn out, somewhat crusty pages of last year’’s GQ hidden under their bed, France’’s First Lady is the stuff of male fantasies.

I suppose there must be some men around who might get a kick out of the thought of pre-pubescent boys fumbling over pictures of their wife in the buff … or even dirty old, syphilitic men playing with themselves, but I wonder if the pocket-sized French Leader (a mere 5ft 5ins tall) is secure and confident in his marriage to a much younger woman?

Consider this, if a woman chooses to be veiled rather than show her face to a man, is she doing so to protect her husband’s feelings, in which case she could be seen as being compliant and servile, or – more importantly – is she doing so to protect her own face from the violation of a man’s eyes?

Could it be that some of these women, when peering out of their burkas at the French leader, feel so special that they do not want the likes of him staring at all of their features?

And this, I believe, is what disturbs Sarkozy because if burka-clad women don’t want to be peered or leered at by men like him then this would be seen not as a show of subjugation but a sense of female superiority.

Could it be that because every bloke on the planet who wants to, can study in detail every curve and crevice of his naked young wife, that the very sight of a burka-clad female makes him feel uncomfortable in his own relationship?

After all Mrs Sarkozy can be viewed in all her naked glory by anyone who can access the internet or a copy of last year’s GQ.

And then someone paid $91,000 for a naked portrait at a Christie’s auction in New York.

On top of that it appears someone stole hundreds of “highly intimate” images of France’s First Lady and an ex-lover a couple of months ago.

Fascinating stuff, but let’s not dwell too long on this subject, I’’ve yet to raise the third lesson Sarkozy needs to learn and that is: People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

A quick scratch beneath the thin veneer of public office reveals the French leader to be a sauteur.*

And the source of this information is non other than the long-suffering Cecilia Sarkozy, who had to put up with 18 years of being married to a man with behavioural problems including being mean, cold and a serial womaniser.

In the book Cecilia, published by Flammarion in January 2008, she said of her husband: “He has a ridiculous side. He is undignified. Nicolas doesn’t come over like a president. He has a real behaviour problem … He needs someone to point it out to him. I did it for 18 years and I can’t do it any more. I am the last person who can do it.”

These, and other, extracts incensed Sarkozy and his estranged wife’’s lawyers sought an injunction to prevent publication on the grounds that the book had invaded the former first lady’s privacy – not that it was inaccurate. The former French first lady Cécilia Sarkozy, divorced in October 2007, is quoted as criticising her ex-husband’s morals, his parenting skills and his fitness to be president.

That must have been extremely crushing and hurtful for France’s little emperor’. But no more hurtful than attacking and scapegoating harmless Muslim women. I wonder if he feels as though they are judging him from behind their veils?

Well we’’re all judging France’’s ‘Little Emperor’ now and the verdict isn’t a good one.

*Sauteur: A vulgar term for a serial womaniser


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Pirates of the Mediterranean

Sorry to be so direct, but Palmor is a purveyor of deceit, a liar - and a very unconvincing one at that.

NOT content with committing war crimes and human rights atrocities in full view of the world, Israel has now confirmed itself as a rogue state by launching into international piracy.

Dawn had not yet broken over the Mediterranean waters in which the SS Dignity was sailing when an Israeli naval gunboat appeared from the inky black and rammed the aid-bearing ship.

The act of aggression on a peace mission was launched in international waters 90 miles off Gaza, without any warning to the captain of the Dignity or the crew.

Israel claimed the incident was an accident and that its naval officers had made numerous attempts to communicate with the Dignity. It was an accident that was to repeat itself three times.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told one press agency that the naval vessel tried to contact the aid boat by radio for identification and to inform it that it could not enter Gaza.

"After the boat did not answer the radio, it sharply veered and the two vessels collided, causing only light damage," Palmor said.

I wonder how many traffic cops around the world have heard that line from a drunken or reckless driver in the wake of a crash.

The Israeli spokesman then went on to accuse the international activists of "seeking provocation more than ever." Isn’t it amazing how Yigal and Co suddenly go belly up and adopt a victim men tality? I wonder how he will react to the news that onboard the ship, among the cargo of much-needed medical supplies and humanitarian aid were TV crew s from CNN and Al Jazeera as well as other media.

For goodness sake, the Dignity was on a peace mission, armed with nothing more than humanitarian aid - hardly a match for the tooled up, hi-tech Israeli Navy and its deadly arsenal.

Sorry to be so direct, but Palmor is a purveyor of deceit, a liar - and a very unconvincing one at that. You see all sea-faring people know that there is a certain radio channel and frequency which remains open 24 hours a day.

I know myself, because the Israeli Navy used that exact same frequency on one of the two Free Gaza boats as they set sail back in August 2008 to break the siege of Gaza by sea. That emergency frequency carried messages of threats and intimidation as clear as a bell.

Radio communications were used without any difficulty on the Israeli Navy several times by human rights activists from the Free Gaza Movement warning the gunboats to back off when they fired at Gazan fishermen. The westerners were on the tiny fishing ships to stop the naval bully boys terrorise the unarmed fishermen.

And by the way, what the hell is Israel up to by banning or trying to prevent boats from entering waters not in its territory? This is the Mediterranean. Just when did Israel assume complete authority of the Med?

It is also worth pointing out that SS Dignity was clearly flying the flag of Gibraltar, and was piloted by an English captain with a passenger list including revered politician Cynthia McKinney from the US. The Israeli Government Press Office director was faxed the entire passenger list and press release shortly after Dignity set sail.

Cynthia is a former Congresswoman from Georgia, and the 2008 Green Party US presidential candidate. She was travelling to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict.

I know her and I can tell you she is one sassy lady. If the Israel Navy thinks this little incident is going to sink without trace then they truly are in for one rude awakening.

After reaching port safely in Lebanon, where thousands greeted the SS Dignity, Cynthia said: "Israeli patrol boats...tracked us for about 30 minutes...and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side...the Israelis indicated that [they felt] we were involved in terrorist activities."

She was joined by another woman of substance, Dr. Elena Theoharous, MP who is a surgeon and a Member of the Cypriot Parliament. She was going to Gaza to assess the ongoing conflict, assist with humanitarian relief efforts, and volunteer in hospitals.

Also on board is another good friend of mine, Caoimhe Butterly, an organizer with the Free Gaza Movement. She said: "The gunboats gave us no warning. They came up out of the darkness firing flares and flashing huge floodlights into our faces. We were so shocked that at first we didn't react. We knew we were well within international waters and supposedly safe from attack. They rammed us three times, hitting the side of the boat hard. We began taking on water and, for a few minutes, we all feared for our lives. After they rammed us, they started screaming at us as we were frantically getting the lifeboats ready and putting on our life jackets. They kept yelling that if we didn't turn back they would shoot us."

Furthermore, the attack was filmed by the journalists, and crew and passengers and no doubt we will see the full extent of that footage and the damage caused by Israel.

Of course Israel is always using the “Oo-er, sorry it was an accident” routine. That’s the excuse the Zionist State used when it hit the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967 with a flurry of bombs, murdering 34 American servicemen in cold blood. In the 40 year s since, those with the blood of those shipmates on their hands have gotten away with murder.

But try as they might to rewrite what happened onboard the Dignity and the Liberty, there are some memories which will not die. And what Israel has done to Gaza in the last few days will become an epitaph for the Zionist State.

Israel's deplorable attack on the unarmed Dignity is a violation of both international maritime law and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which states, "the high seas should be reserved for peaceful purposes."

Delivering doctors and urgently needed medical supplies to civilians is just such a "peaceful purpose." Deliberately ramming a mercy ship and endangering its passengers is an act of terrorism and piracy.

As I write this a funeral is being planned for five Palestinian sisters who were slaughtered in their sleep when an airstrike hit the next-door mosque in Gaza.

One of the walls collapsed on to their small asbestos-roofed home and they were all killed in their beds in the densley populated Jabalya refugee camp. The eldest sister, Tahrir Balousha was 17 years old, the youngest, Jawaher, just four.

Some hours earlier Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told al Jazeera: “"Hamas seeks to kill children; it fires at kindergartens, schools, civilians – because this corresponds with its extremist ideology. Our values are completely different," she said.

Her outrageous claim went unchallenged, like so many statements coming out of Tel Aviv do these days. In a way, Ms Livni is right - Israel’s values are different. Hamas has killed no one’s children but the Israeli cabinet members who have spent the last six months planning the Gaza massacre, have sent out their military on assaults which have killed children. The air and sea attacks, shells and missiles have killed lots of Palestinian children.

While today’s continued military slaughter - and now piracy - underlines the fact that leaders in the international community seem unwilling or unable to halt the Zionist War Machine, there are international lawyers who think otherwise.

And that is why one by one, those responsible will one day be charged with war crimes ... the evidence is stacking up - Nuremberg would be quite a fitting arena to try the guilty but London, Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam or Madrid will do.

The Israelis might not acknowledge their guilt publicly, but Brigadier-General Aviv Kochavi has cancelled a study sabbatical in London for fear of being indicted for "war crimes" and former IDF Southern Commander Doron Almog clung on to his passenger seat when someone from the israe li Embassy advised him not to put one foot on the ground at London's Heathrow Airport after a suit had been filed against him for "war crimes" during his stint as head of the IDF Gaza division from 1993-95 and head of the IDF Southern Command starting in 2000. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon and former Shin Bent director Avi Dichter are two others who are advised not to leave outside Israel.

I understand fresh writs are being prepared for the next generation of Israeli war criminals and that includes all those involved in the Gaza massacres ... which could be anyone from a lowly reservist who has just been called up right through to the top ranks and beyond.

Like the Nazi and war crime hunters of the past, we must never forgive, never forget and never submit to the demands of morally bankrupt states and politicians.

* Yvonne Ridley and film-maker Aki Nawaz sailed to Gaza with the FGM on the first mission to break the siege. A documentary about the trip will be broadcast on Press TV in 2009. Yvonne is a co-founder of the newly-launched SGS - Stop Gaza Slaughter coalition.


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Anarchy in the UK

I am normally a law-abiding citizen, but the anger and shame I felt drove me to join those who tore down the barriers on Saturday

The murderous military campaign which has been unleashed by Israel has provoked people across the world to demonstrate, rally and protest in their hundreds of thousands.

Soon the movement will turn into millions as more ordinary, decent citizens of the world show their disgust at the barbarism of Israel ... and the cowardly silence of our own leaders.

This is no longer a political issue, or a Middle East issue. It is a case of what is right and what is wrong, and what is decent and what is inhumane.

And ordinary people are now taking the initiative because they can no longer rely on their political leaders to show any of the human qualities demanded of them including strength, integrity or compassion.

British people, normally reserved and controlled, brought anarchy to the streets of upscale Kensington yesterday as they stormed barracades and pushed past police to head towards the Israeli Embassy in London.

There was more anarchy in Scotland as our friends over the Border vented their spleen over the war crimes and massacre carried out by Israel.

And unless British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gets some lead in his pencil, the anarchy will continue.

Being British is about fair play, justice and humanity ... standing up for the underdog in the face of bullies.

I am normally a law-abiding citizen, but the anger and shame I felt drove me to join those who tore down the barriers on Saturday.

Gordon Brown is the very man who lectured us about what it is to be British. Well let me turn the tables on this pathetic, self-serving man who does not deserve to lead our country.

Being British is about fair play, justice and humanity ... standing up for the underdog in the face of bullies.

Brown, like other leaders around the world, simply looked the other way as the Israeli military jackbooted its way through the blood dripped gutters once trawled by the Nazis to kill, massacre and maim.

In the final days of December 2008 Gordon Brown will be remembered for acting like one of the silent cowards who hangs uncomfortably on the edge of the schoolyard as the bully kicks and thumps the little, weak child.

And that feckless fool David Milliband is no better. While Brown told journalists he was “deeply concerned” over Israeli actions, the British Foreign secretary urged Israel to abide by its “humanitarian obligations”.

And it was their weasly words which was directly responsible for the lawlessness which erupted in the streets of London on Saturday, and I’ll tell you why.

I am going to be there [Saturday, January 3 outside the British Parliament] - with or without police permission. And if they want to arrest me and lock me up then so be it.

I was outraged and ashamed by the weakness shown by Milliband and Brown and called my good friend Ghada Razuki. We have both been to Palestine and we have both been to Gaza and we were both repelled by the pathetic reaction of our government.
So we decided to launch SGS - Stop Gaza Slaughter - and call for a rally. We began hitting the phones. Many organised groups were already planning a demonstration for the Sunday and they urged us to wait.

One told me: “You do not have police permission”. Almost choking with rage, I responded: “Permission? Permission to demonstrate and march and exercise my democratic right to protest? This is Britain! And did Israel ask anyone for permission to bomb Gaza?”

But Ghada did call the police and inform them that we were planning a demo - in truth I thought around 30 of us might turn up to respond, but it seems that we were not the only ones who were outraged by the silence of Messrs Brown and Co.

“I thought you said only 30 were going to turn up, there must be 3,000 here now,” said one police officer. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I had no idea a few text messages, FaceBook and a blog could have resulted in such a turnout.

In truth I am sure many who arrived in Kensington on Saturday would have come anyway. But what happened was pure ‘people power’ and this is what happens when you have a leader who commands little or no respect.

When the people lead, the leaders will follow and I think in the next few days Brown’s advisers will tell him that what the British people want is a real man who will stand up to the bullies.

And if he doesn’t there will be more anarchy and it will get worse. This is neither a threat nor a promise - just a prediction.

If Brown wants to survive politically, he will have20to join us when we demonstrate on Saturday, January 3 - opposite the British Parliament. He needs to show us he is really man enough to lead this country.

And on the subject of Saturday’s demonstration - police permission is apparently being sought. I have some advice for the Metropolitan Police: “Do not try and stop the democratic right of every person in Britain to demonstrate.”

I am going to be there - with or without police permission. And if they want to arrest me and lock me up then so be it.

Has it now become a crime to demonstrates against war crimes? Crimes against humanity are being carried out by Israel and I refuse to be silent.

And you know what? I am not alone. See you there Saturday, January 3 outside the British Parliament.

Victory to Intifada 3

* For more information on SGS - Stop Gaza Slaughter - go to:


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Afghanistan: The reality on the ground

There are solutions to the Afghan crisis and removing the arrogant, ignorant US military is one way

The Taliban now holds a permanent presence of 72 per cent of Afghanistan according to the latest report by an influential think tank.

But within hours of the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) releasing this news various politicians and ambassadors from Afghanistan, America and Britain criticised its contents.

The reality is none of these people really know what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan because it is not safe to travel and if any of them do venture out it is rarely beyond the confines of Kabul.

The reason I know the ICOS report carries weight is because I have just returned from Afghanistan myself and, unlike most politicians, diplomats and journalists who go to the country, I went in unescorted.

The Taliban is forming an ever tightening noose around Kabul with, as ICOS says, three out of four main highways into the capital city now compromised by Taliban.

How do I know? Because I drove around Afghanistan with film-maker Hassan al Banna Ghani and saw the evidence with my own eyes - we nearly got our heads blown off for our troubles as well, having inadvertently driven into a firefight between Taliban fighters and Afghan police 30 minutes from Kabul on the main road to Ghazni.

We drove up from Peshawar, through the dramatic and historic Khyber Pass, down into Torkham and from there we had a straight run via Jalalabad to Kabul.

It's an amazing drive, possibly one of the most scenic routes in the world but it wasn't the backdrop of the Hindu Kush or the fertile green valleys cloaked in a gossamer-like morning mist peaking out from rows of jagged mountain peaks ahead which took my breath away on this occasion.

It was the fresh roadside carnage which punctuated the drive to the Afghan capital. We must have seen the skeletons of nearly 20 oil tankers targetted by rocket propelled grenade launchers in the hands of the Taliban.

These are images British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US President elect Barack Obama or Hamid Karzai are unlikely to see for themselves because the only safe way to get to Kabul is to fly in to the airport.

We didn't have the luxury of choice, so our decision to drive this treacherous route was based on the fact we couldn't hang around Islamabad for another week before getting a seat on a flight.

But I am glad we did because it gave us a chance to see for ourselves what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan. it gave us an opportunity to talk to ordinary people who have to live day in and day out without the luxury of a heavily armed military escort, or a heavily fortified place to work and an even more heavily guarded place to sleep.

For the next week we travelled by road, by car, unescorted in to areas and provinces that other foreigners dare not go and as I said earlier, we nearly paid a heavy price for our amazing footage.

And thanks to that experience, I can read the ICOS report coming from a point of knowledge that the Western leaders and all of their advisers simply do not have.

That is why it would be foolish to dismiss ICOS claims that the Taliban now holds a permanent presence in 72% of Afghanistan, up from 54% a year ago. They have advanced from their southern heartlands, where they are now the de facto governing power in a number of towns and villages, to Afghanistan's western and north-western provinces, as well as provinces north of Kabul.

Norine MacDonald QC, President and Lead Field Researcher of ICOS told a London press conference: "The Taliban are now controlling the political and military dynamic in Afghanistan.

"Despite increasingly dire levels of security in Afghanistan in recent months, there has been surprisingly little change in response from the international community. The insurgency continues to turn NATO's weaknesses into its own strengths," she added.

"The Taliban are closing a noose around Kabul, and there is a real danger that the Taliban will simply overrun Afghanistan under the noses of NATO," said Paul Burton, Director of Policy for ICOS.

The British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles commented on the report on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme on Monday morning in a dismissive fashion, saying: "I'm afraid the methodology in the report is seriously flawed. I mean for example its map of Kabul, which I have in front of me, shows the area where I'm sitting talking to you from now, across which I drove this morning to see President Karzai, as being under heavy Taliban influence.

"It's quite the reverse: Afghans are strolling in the streets, celebrating the Eid. It counts as one incident in the province the size of Yorkshire, meaning that that province is under permanent Taliban control. It's a very thin piece of work".

The arrogance and ignorance of Sir Sherard is nothing short of breath-taking. No foreigner dare venture out for a stroll in Kabul unescorted because of kidnap fears. And I'd like to bet he went under heavily armed escorts to do his interview.

I have seen the British Embassy in Kabul - it is hidden behinds vast mounds of concrete bunkers, barbed wire and a heavily armed guard presence. You can't just stroll in to the embassy there like I did in March 2003.

I know nothing about Sir Sherard, but I'd like to bet he doesn't go for a stroll anywhere in Kabul, but I do know Norine MacDonald, author of the report. She is one gutsy lady who comes from a point of knowledge because she does get out on the ground - Kabul and beyond.

Furthermore I've seen her sit on her hunkers and talk with Afghan men - and women - about their hopes, needs and fears in some of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan.

Also speaking on the Today programme was Afghan MP Shukria Barakzai who when asked about the report said: "I'm surprised. This is not the truth. If Taliban's that much powerful so where's these Coalition forces and Afghan Government themselves? I don't think the Taliban will be that much powerful although there is a lack of security, this is the truth.

"The Taliban is still a threat for security and somehow the Coalition forces, also in some places they are threat for security, particularly for civilians, but I completely disagree with such figures which has been made."

I've also had the pleasure of meeting Shukria, an amazing woman from an extremely wealthy and privileged background - being rich is not a crime but I can tell you that Shukria will not have stepped outside of Kabul unless by air.

She is a bright, intelligent woman and I was delighted when she became an MP because she has a good heart and a deep love for her country.

I am really fearful about plans to vastly increase the US and British presence in Afghanistan. I can tell you the Taliban are rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of what they regard as a "bigger army, bigger target and more shiny new weapons to take from the toy soldiers".

The American presence is loathed in Afghanistan even among those who don't want to see the Taliban back in power. This is down to many things not least of all their arrogance, refusal to acknowledge or even try and understand the culture and their habit of shooting at any motorist who tries to overtake their slow-moving convoys.

Think about it - when you have an open road ahead why should you have to sit behind a bunch of armoured personnel vehicles doing less than 20mph.

And try talking to an Afghan motorist who sits patiently in a traffic jam only to have his car scrunched and shunted to the side by a US convoy which has decided to create its own traffic free lane. he will tell you exactly what he thinks about the behavior of Uncle Sam's boys.

Then there's the endless list of US missile strikes on wedding parties which have slaughtered innocent Afghans - very rarely are these murders followed up by an apology but they continue to happen.

Norine also called for a free and open media - that would be nice but there is also documented evidence that anyone writing against the US occupation can expect a visit from the Americans. I spoke to one young such journalist who ended up being kidnapped, beaten and thrown in a cell in Bagram for 18 hours after revealing out of date US army rations were being sold on the black market in Kabul.

Guess what, the story is true as I found out trolling through the goods on sale at an open air market in Kabul. There indeed were US army rations on sale - and we have Hassan's film to prove it.

The western leaders can either choose to remain in denial and send in more troops while listening to pompous civil servants, politicians and diplomats who say only what they think their masters want to hear, or they can sit down and read the ICOS report and act upon it.

There are solutions to the Afghan crisis and removing the arrogant, ignorant US military is one way - and take out the Brits too because Afghans can no longer distinguish between the two.

Bombard the people with genuine aid and not artillery shells and give the Afghan Government real support instead of aid with conditions attached.

Genuine job creation schemes offering decent money is a good start. And while it might be nice to have career women emerging from the rubble of Kabul, start with the men first. Give them their dignity back by providing real jobs.

Given the choice between starvation or fighting for the Taliban for around $40 dollars a month, I know what decision I would make. Think about it - it's a no brainer.

* Yvonne Ridley and Hassan al Banna Ghani's documentary: In Search of Prisoner 650 will be broadcast on Press TV in early 2009.


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Afghanistan: 7 years on

The only winners emerging from Afghanistan these days are the drug barons

The day after US war planes bombed an Afghan wedding party killing more than 30 women and children, I drove from Pakistan’s troubled tribal areas to the border crossing.

Feeling rather sensitive towards my own security as a white westerner who could be mistaken for an American, I decided to throw on an all-enveloping burka and make my way across in the anonymity this garment gives women travelers.

As I walked across the border at Torkham towards the Afghan passport control office I heard someone barking in a loud, aggressive American accent at one of the drivers held up at the US-controlled checkpoint.

I looked up and watched as a heavily armoured, helmeted soldier pointed his gun and continued screaming in a rude manner for the driver to get in line.

It obviously did not occur to him that most of the people in earshot could only understand Pashto.

I really despaired and felt sorry for those Afghans who were being greeted by this obnoxious alien in uniform as they entered their own country.

Now I know most Americans don’t do humility, but a little sensitivity should have been called for on that day … it was the day after nearly 90 wedding guests had been wiped out in yet another US airstrike.

I have now spent several days in Afghanistan as an unembedded journalist, travelling around freely without an armed or military escort.

Yes, it’s risky and at times nerve-wracking but if I want to find out what is really happening on the ground I’m not going to get it hiding in some hotel compound or army barracks being briefed by an army spokesman who knows even less than me.

So far I’ve spoken to men and women from all backgrounds, cultures and Islamic ideologies and without exception they’re hacked off with the American presence.

All the goodwill I saw after the fall of the Taliban has been squandered by the military presence of the US as well as the British (no one really distinguishes between the two) and it is crystal clear they have overstayed their welcome.

The Taliban are in control of large swathes of the country and are now bordering on Kabul having already carried out several raids on the capital where Afghan leader Hamid Karzai is under virtual siege.

Since his installation as president he has often been accused of being a US puppet, but even he is attempting to break free from those in Washington pulling the strings.

Without a doubt, the continued presence of US and British forces has swung violently from being regarded as the solution to becoming the cause of most of the problems. And promises by various army chiefs to bring in more troops to enforce a Baghdad-style surge causes one of two reactions depending your political stance.

Peacemakers view the arrival of more troops with spiralling despair while the Taliban and their supporters rub their hands with glee reckoning a larger enemy presence will make an easier target.

Of course moronic comments by the likes of Commander Jeff Bender, a US forces spokesman, don’t help. After the Kandahar wedding attack he said: "The coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of non-combatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu.

"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologise and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan."

What does he mean “if innocent people were killed”. It seems this US insensitivity isn’t just confined to the uniformed grunts at the Torkham border.

Does Commander Jeff Bender think that the 33 dead women and children his warplanes wiped out were enemy combatants?

Scores of Afghans have been killed in American air strikes this year, fuelling the resentment against the presence of foreign troops and widening the rift between President Karzai and his western puppet masters.

The only winners emerging from Afghanistan these days are the drug barons who preside over the world’s largest heroin trade and the pimps who control the Chinese prostitutes operating from the scores of bordellos and brothels which have emerged since the US military occupation.

So there you have it – Afghanistan a country in the grip of reckless soldiers, slappers and smack.


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Hoover, the FBI, and Aafia Siddiqui

I personally spoke with Lt. Col. Mark Wright at the US Pentagon who denied all knowledge of Prisoner 650 or Dr Aafia Siddique.

The FBI lost much of its credibility when its chief J. Edgar Hoover was revealed to be a transvestite who preferred to be called Mary.

Hoover, probably the most powerful men in America some say even more powerful then the presidents he served under, was the originator of dirty tricks campaign and kept a lot of dirt on other people in his files.

The only players who were immune to Hoover's secret files were those who had secrets of their own about his personal life - namely, the Mafia. Mafia bosses obtained information about Hoover's sex life and used it for decades to keep the FBI at bay. Without this, the Mafia as we know it might never have gained its hold in America.

In May of 1972, Hoover - approaching his fifty-five-year anniversary with the Justice Department - boasted that the FBI remained the organization that he built upon his own principles and standards - of course now we know exactly what standards Hoover aka Mary had.

The FBI never really recovered its power or prestige once Hoover was ousted as a cross dresser.

There was more scandal to follow when Acting Director L. Patrick Gray was forced to resign after being caught up in the Watergate drama which brought down President Richard Nixon aka Tricky Dicky.

The FBI is supposed to be an institute based around freedom and democracy; instead it has become a factory from which lies and deceit are manufactured.

The reason for this brief history lesson into the FBI will now become apparent.

You see it is quite obvious that from cross dressers, liars and fraudsters, the FBI has now moved into the realms of fantasy land with the news that Dr. Aafia Siddique has "conveniently" been found outside a governor's office in Afghanistan with her 12 year old son ... FIVE years after her disappearance in Karachi.

According to the FBI she was in possession of "numerous documents describing the creation of explosives, as well as excerpts from the Anarchist's Arsenal, descriptions of various landmarks in the United States, including in New York City" - you know, all the regular stuff a female terrorist would carry in her handbag!

The fantasists who concocted this story may as well have put Dr. Siddique in Hoover's old red dress while they were on with it.

What we do know is that she has been shot at and injured. She was extradited to New York last night (Monday) and is being held in a prison in Manhatten down the road from the nightclub where Hoover used to pose as Mary.

She faces charges of attempted murder and assault of a US officer.

Does the FBI really think we are all that stupid and gullible?

Dr. Aafia Siddiqui - who had been sought by the FBI for several years regarding terrorism according to their website - is accused of shooting at two FBI special agents, a US Army warrant officer, an Army captain and military interpreters who unknowingly entered a room where she was being held unsecured.

She fired two shots, but hit no one, officials said. The warrant officer returned fire with a pistol, shooting Siddiqui at least once. She struggled with the officers before she lost consciousness, said officials, adding that she received medical attention.

The day before the shootings, Afghan police had arrested Siddiqui outside the Ghazni governor's compound after finding bomb-making instructions, excerpts from the "Anarchist's Arsenal," papers with descriptions of US landmarks and substances sealed 20 in bottles and glass jars.

This all happened two weeks after I had given a press conference in Islamabad calling on the US to handover Prisoner 650 - The Grey lady of Bagram.

Coincidence? May be - but if the FBI think that we are going to buy the bovine scatterings they have just released to the US media they really do live in La La Land.

Let's look at the cold hard fact of the case.

Dr Siddiqui, 36, is an American-educated neuroscientist. Since 2003, Siddiqui's whereabouts have been the source of much speculation. According to Amnesty International, Siddiqui and her three small children were reported apprehended in Karachi, Pakistan, in March 2003 after the FBI issued at alert requesting information about her location earlier that month.

Several reports indicated Siddiqui was in US custody after her arrest in Karachi. But in May 2004 then-Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller identified Siddiqui among several sought-after al Qaeda members.

Human rights group and a lawyer for Ms. Siddiqui, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, say they believe that she has been secretly detained since 2003, for much of that time at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

"We believe Aafia has been in custody ever since she disappeared," Ms. Sharp said in a telephone interview yesterday, "and we're not willing to believe that the discovery of Aafia in Afghanistan is coincidence."

American military and intelligence officials said that Ms. Siddiqui was in Pakistan for most of the past five years until she resurfaced last month and was captured by the Afghans.

She and her 12-year-old son were arrested in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on July 17. The American officials accused Ms Siddiqui trying to bomb the residence of Ghazni's provincial governor.

Someone who also does not buy this nonsense is Asim Qureshi, Senior Researcher for the British-based international human rights organization Cage prisoners has issued the following statement, "There are many questions that the FBI and the Pakistani government need to answer in light of this admission. Why have the FBI continued to pretend to be seeking her while all the while knowing of her detention in Afghanistan? Is Aafia indeed Prisoner 650 whose screams were heard by former Bagram prisoners?

"Aafia Siddiqui is a woman who has been plagued by a number of problems in her life, none of which have anything to do with involvement with al-Qaeda. During the years the US claim she was working as an operative for the organization she was in fact the victim of domestic violence at the hands of an abusive husband. Community members in Boston declare that she was incapable of any violence, let alone being involved with a terrorist group.

"Whilst we welcome this disclosure reform the FBI, it has only come after mounting international pressure, and five years of detention and abuse. Siddiqui's case represents the problem of disappearances in Pakistan in the most tragic way. The acceptance by the FBI that Siddiqui has been in custody in Afghanistan raises important questions which must be answered by the Pakistani and US governments. Siddiqui must be returned to Pakistan in order to faces charges for any crime she may have committed or released along with her children."

Cage prisoners have led 20th campaign for Aafia Siddiqui for the past three years. Since her disappearance in March 2003 in Karachi, along with her three young children, the FBI has continually denied reports of her detention and that she was in their custody.

I am proud to be a patron of Cage Prisoners. Less than two weeks before this fiasco emerged, I traveled to Pakistan with Cage prisoners Director, Saghir Hussain, to launch their report, Devoid of the Rule of the Law, at a press conference organized by Imran Khan.

The press conference sparked an international storm of outrage, when I asked my colleagues in the Pakistan media to put pressure on the US to identify Prisoner 650 and the release of Aafia Siddiqui.

I personally spoke with Lt. Col. Mark Wright at the US Pentagon who denied all knowledge of Prisoner 650 or Dr Aafia Siddique.

Now I do not believe for one minute Lt. Col. Wright was lying - in fact I did suggest to him that the people he was speaking to in Afghanistan (the FBI) might be lying to him. I did ask him to call me back when he had the facts.

Perhaps Lt. Col. Wright you might want to make that call now and tell me the truth about Dr. Siddique and Prisoner 650 ... but whatever you do mate, do not get your facts from the FBI which stands for Fantasy Brigade International ... and that's just the polite version.


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My case against Al Jazeera

I was accused of being a threat to national security.

I remember speaking to a friend of mine recently about his acrimonious divorce case.

Suffering from mental exhaustion and in the depths of despair, he blamed his increasingly litigious and bitter wife who had been unceremoniously dumped for a younger woman.

“It’s got nothing to do with the money, you know. It’s all about revenge, justice and pride,” I advised.

And that pretty much sums up my case for unfair dismissal with Aljazeera English which has been dragged through every court in the land of Qatar.

I had been dumped by my boss – sacked unceremoniously on the marble doorstep of my posh villa, 10.30 at night, and he didn’t even have the guts to do it himself.

Without warning his PA informed me: “You’ve been terminated. Do not come to the office”.

It was a cowardly way to dispense of someone’s services – I was a senior editor, a team leader, brought in to help launch the English language website.

It hurt. It really hurt.

The pain has dulled now and, four years down the line, I finally received justice.

The funny thing is, I can’t even remember the name of my Qatari boss.

But I do recall a couple of explosive meetings we had. The White House demanded he pulled some features which exposed heavy handed tactics by US military against children in Afghanistan and Iraq.

No one disputed the accuracy of the stories but they offended the Bush Administration. Such a request would have been met with derision in Fleet Street but he capitulated.

The second clash happened when I discovered Arab and Asian colleagues were being paid considerably less than their Western counterparts.

This prompted me to try and introduce the NUJ to Qatar. I was accused of being a threat to national security.

Despite my sudden dismissal I could not leave until Aljazeera’s burgeoning administration department returned my passport. (Everyone has to hand in their passport on arrival).

For five weeks I was trapped in Qatar until lawyer Imran Khan of Stephen Lawrence fame intervened.

It was Christmas Eve. To this day I don’t know what he said but the passport arrived via motorbike courier within an hour.

By Boxing Day I flew back to the UK feeling rejected and humiliated.

Now, looking back without anger, I realise - like King Pyrrus of Epirus - there is a very fine line between victory and defeat.

In many ways a pyrrhic victory is just another kind of loss. Even if you wipe out your enemy, but suffer too many casualties or waste too much time, then you've also lost.

Perhaps the 8408.08 miles distance between me and the tiny Gulf state jutting out of Saudi’s gut saved me.

I didn’t have the time or the money to hassle my legal team over the glacial progress of the case.

My own impecunious state also forced me to concentrate on finding work.

But, there are three things to remember if you are contemplating suing overseas for unfair dismissal – you need bags of money, bags of patience and a bloody good lawyer.

Luckily for me I had the moral and financial support of the National Union of Journalists, although the latter was limited to 10k.

However, I had also secured the services of the finest employment lawyer in Qatar – Gebran Majdalany.

Gebran, an extraordinary Lebanese-born brief in his 70s, represented my first major victory because Aljazeera had tried to poach him.

The second victory followed shortly when I won my case by default – the other side didn’t bother to turn up.

However my victory jig was short-lived as an appeal was lodged immediately. It soon became obvious Aljazeera had the time, money and energy to drag things out. It also seemed as though they were filibustering by examining every single legal detail.

In 2006 I had to fly into Doha and give evidence in person via a translator.

As the 10k dwindled I gave myself an ultimatum: ‘Do I walk away or do I dig into my savings and continue to fight?’

The answer was easy - I had no savings.

However, I had a rare breed of lawyer who had a burning desire to win.

The money was no longer important – which was just as well since the performance of the Qatari Riyal was tied to the plummeting US dollar.

My 100,000 QR award (which doubled somewhere during the appeals procedure) is barely worth £12,000. When litigation began it was worth closer to 20k.

Despite my experience, I’m still an admirer of the Aljazeera name and the heroic brand of journalism it brought to the Arab world.

Nor have I been put off working for an overseas employer, but on reflection, I am probably more sensitive and respectful now to cultural differences and work practices.

I work for the Iranian-funded Press TV which launched in July 2007. The contract I have is a freelance one - which suits us both.

However, judging from internet chatrooms, I gather there are Western journalists who are really disillusioned working for Aljazeera English and may even be contemplating taking legal action.

My advice would be to proceed with extreme caution while drawing their attention to the words of China’s most famous philosopher Confucius: “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”


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Israel’s 60th Independence Day

Just how twisted do you have to be to gun down a child? And just how twisted do you have to be to mark the 60th anniverary in honour of children.

I wonder how many of you know that the theme under consideration for Israel's 60th Independence Day is children?

It is hard to imagine isn't it? It could not be more meaningless when you consider how snipers belonging to the Israeli Army target young innocents.

Of course they don't target just any children. No, the ones targeted in the crosshair of these Zionist cowards are Palestinian children.

Just how twisted do you have to be to gun down a child?

And just how twisted do you have to be to mark the 60th anniverary in honour of children.

And I wonder which children they are honouring ... the ones slaughtered by the brutal Zionist army?

In the last 18 months, more than 120 have been slaughtered ... all Palestinian children. One fifth of the dead were children and teenagers - an unprecedented number even by Israel's standards.

These children were gunned down as they studied for exams, climbed fig trees, sat and played in the streets.

Yes, some of them may have thrown a stone at an armoured car or tank, or touched a forbidden fence. And this is how one of the largest armies in the world reacts.

I want to tell you about some of these children.

Let's start with 14-year-old Dam Hamad, from Rafah who was killed in her sleep, in her mother's arms by an israeli rocket strike. She was the only daughter of her paralyzed mother.

Then I want you to consider the case of Mohamed al-Zakh who is known as the boy from Gaza who was buried twice.

He was 14 when he died three days before the start of his school year - his fragile body blown apart in Operation Locked Kindergarten ... yes, that was the name of the military strike. Five children died in that operation.

His broken father identified the child's torso and legs from his clothes and his remains were buried. Then the bereaved father found the remaining partsd of his body some days later after the Israeli Army left the area. Another burial had to be held.

Israeli forces also fired a missile that hit the minibus transporting children to the Indira Gandhi kindergarten in Gaza. Two children were killed on the spot. The teacher, Najwa Khalif, died a few days later. She was wounded in clear view of her 20 small pupils, who were sitting in the minibus. After her death, the children drew a picture: a row of children lying bleeding, their teacher in the front, and an Israeli plane bombing them.

Gaza schoolboy Ayman al-Mahdi, died after a bullet fired from a tank hit him. The ten year old had been sitting with friends on a bench on a street in Jabalya, right by his school. Children in the West Bank, are targets too. Jamil Jabaji, a child from the new Askar refugee camp, was shot in the head. He was 14 when. He and his friends were throwing rocks at the armored vehicle that passed by the camp, located near Nablus. The driver provoked the children, slowing down and speeding up, slowing down and speeding up, until finally a soldier got out, aimed at the boy's head and fired.

And what did 16-year-old Taha al-Jawi do to get himself killed? The Israeli soldier said he tried to sabotage the barbed-wire fence surrounding the abandoned Atarot airport; his friends said he was just playing soccer and had gone to chase after the ball. Live fire directed at unarmed children who weren't endangering anyone, with no prior warning.

Abir Aramin was even younger; she was just 11. The daughter of an activist in the Combatants for Peace organization, in January she left her school in Anata and was on the way to buy candy in a little shop. She was fired upon from a Border Police vehicle.

In Nablus, a Jewish human rights group documented the use of children as human shields - the use of the so-called "neighbor procedure" - involving an 11-year-old girl, a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy. This practice has been outlawed by the High Court of Justice. Do the law courts in israel not recognise the rights of palestinian children?

The same Jewish human rights group - and it is important to remember not all Israelis agree with the brutality of the Israeli Army - recorded the story of the death of baby Khaled, whose parents, Sana and Daoud Fakih, tried to rush him to the hospital in the middle of the night, a time when Palestinian babies apparently mustn't get sick: The baby died at the checkpoint.

In Kafr al-Shuhada (the "martyrs' village") south of Jenin, in March, 15-year-old Ahmed Asasa was fleeing from soldiers who had entered the village. A sniper's bullet caught him in the neck.

Bushra Bargis hadn't even left her home. In late April she was studying for a big test, notebooks in hand, pacing around her room in the Jenin refugee camp in the early evening, when a sniper shot her in the forehead from quite far away. Her bloodstained notebooks bore witness to her final moments.

And what about the unborn babies? They aren't safe either. A bullet in the back of Maha Qatuni, a woman who was seven months pregnant and got up during the night to protect her children in their home, struck her foetus in the womb, shattering its head. The wounded mother lay in a Hospital in Nablus, hooked up to numerous tubes. She was going to name the baby Daoud. Does killing a fetus count as murder? And how "old" was the deceased? He was certainly the youngest of the many children Israel killed in the past year.

God knows what the next year will bring - the year of the children.

But the blood of the young ones isn't just on the hands of the cowardly Israeli soldiers who deliberately target unarmed children. The blood is on the hands of the Israeli Government, the Bush Administration which turns a blind eye to the killing of innocents and on the weak members of the British Government who also look away silently. And in particular, that self-serving, vain pipsqueak, Foreign Secretary David Milliband, who trampled over the dead babies of Gaza to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel as it unleashed its vast army on the people of Gaza. He said he could fully understand Israel's security concerns and called on Palestinian faction to stop their attacks against innocent civilians. And what would Milliband call Amira Khaled Abu Aser? She was barely a month old when she was buried in Gaza City on March 5 this year.

Did he have any words of comfort for the families of the six women and 30 children killed by Israel bombs and bullets since February 28 of this year? Milliband is a gutless, little weasel who lost more than his foreskin when he was circumcised


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You can only demand to be treated as an equal if you act like one

No wonder Muslims are feeling isolated and targeted – they are beginning to realize that no matter how hard they try to fit in, when it suits the politicians they will be dragged out and whipped.

It is now two weeks since that turbulent priest, the Archbishop of Canterbury, dared to say there could be some room for sharia’h law in today’s Britain. I don’t think he could have foreseen the anti-Muslim backlash which followed – driven by groups with different agendas and motives.

There are those who portray themselves as cuddly lefties, secular socialists who believe it is fashionable to bash up Muslims. And then there are those driven by racism who see Islamophobia as the last legitimate refuge to peddle their race-fueled hate. But perhaps the worst are the political opportunists who use the politics of fascism to win popular votes and approval.

This is not the first time Labour has made the revolting decision to place the politics of religious identity at the centre of public debate, in the same opportunist way that Jorg Haider's Freedom Party does in Austria and Pim Fortuyn's List Party has done in Holland. But let’s return to the latest outcry over Dr Rowan Williams’ speech. The reality was that he really tiptoed gently around the whole idea of sharia’h in Britain. Each sentence was delicately embraced with a huge qualification. The reality, as most Muslims know, is that sharia’h is already here and practiced in the way we eat, sleep, pray, marry and divorce … very much in the same way that orthodox Jewish courts operate. The media and political reaction has been hysterical downright nasty: from the Sun's declaration that Williams had "handed al-Qaida a victory", to the BBC showing images of chopped off limbs to illustrate sharia’h.

We should thank the Archbishop because what he has done is rip wide open a far more serious debate – and it is up to all of us to demand that this debate is confronted in an equally intellectual and thoughtful way. The debate I am talking about is why equal rights for Muslims are being denied? Yes, Muslims, quite simply, do not have equal rights in Britain and in this incendiary atmosphere of growing Islamophobic intolerance things are going to get much, much worse.

Government Ministers like Phil Woolas have cynically jumped on the bandwagon. He created hysterical headlines about "Muslim inbreeding " with his comments about the health risks of cousin marriages among Pakistanis. The way he spoke about the issue was as though some Frankenstein-like creatures were filling the baby wards in maternity hospitals around Oldham, Bradford, Burnley and Birmingham.

That great Muslim martyr Malcolm X once said: Sitting at the Table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on the plate. Being here in America does not make you an American. Being born here in America does not make you an American.” Now substitute America for Britain and give me the answer, Mr Brown.

While many of us would not recommend cousins marrying cousins, it is a practice traditionally favoured by European royals. Perhaps Woolas should have gone right to the top on this issue and taken it up with The Queen. May be he should have checked out Queen Victoria’s family tree before putting his foot in his mouth! But first, I would just like to remind Woolas, that the practice of marrying first cousins is perfectly legal in this country, so stuff him and his comments about elephants in the living room. If it is a huge problem then change the law. The real elephant in this Government’s living room is the Islamophobia which is rife in government and establishment circles.

No wonder Muslims are feeling isolated and targeted – they are beginning to realize that no matter how hard they try to fit in, when it suits the politicians they will be dragged out and whipped. I would like to remind Woolas, everytime he opens his gob, some sister somewhere gets bashed up or verbally abused by some racist oik. And if he wants statistics as proof he should go to the Islamic Human Rights Commission. What an odious, rancid little creep Woolas is. Christians of any sect would be reeling if they were pilloried for their practices and traditions. (Can you imagine what would be said about Muslims if in any of our services we drank ‘the blood of Christ?’) And several Jewish friends of mine, some who lost grandparents in the Holocaust, have drawn parallels with the Nazi abuse their families received way back in the 1930s to the weight of the hostility thrown at Muslims today.

Leon Kuhn, an excellent cartoonist and illustrator told me last year that the Nazis began their propaganda against the Jews by publishing vile cartoons depicting rabbis as untrustworthy, dangerous subversives.One of the biggest Islamophobes sitting in Government is Phil Woolas, who deserves further scrutiny in this column. He was the minister for race relations in the autumn of 2006 when he intervened in the row over the classroom assistant Aisha Azmi by calling for her to be fired. Aisha was the girl who work a nikab over her face whenever a male colleague entered the room, but by the time he and the media had finished you would have thought Aisha spent her entire teaching days in a full face veil. This is the MP who during the last General Election stamped the Union Jack emblem on his campaign literature and highlighted 'anti-white racism' as a vital issue in his Oldham constituency. His mates told him it was political suicide and that he would lose his marginal seat but in fact his votes increased and sent the anoraks in Labour’s spin machine into statistical overdrive. They realized then they didn’t need to try and win back the disaffected Muslims who ditched Labour over Iraq and Afghanistan. So instead of trying to bring them back into the fold, these cynical politicians opted instead to stir up racial tension as a means of appealing directly to the white working-class vote.

This nasty strategy has upset the Tories – this was their traditional territory! Gordon Brown, a man who comes from a nation where men wear tartan, pleated skirts, waded in to Jack Straw’s nikab row with gusto has now upped the ante. As Prime Minister he has banned the leading Islamic cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi from entering the UK on the pretext he supported Palestinian suicide attacks during the Intifada. Let’s look at the plain, cold facts.

Sheikh al-Qaradawi, an 81-year-old scholar has been to Britain several times since the Intifada. And, to be more precise, he was encouraged to come to Britain by the government after the Iraq invasion because of his opposition to al-Qaida. No, the real reasons for the ban is two fold. First it’s another slap in the face to the Muslim community and therefore a vote winner. And secondly, the ban is enforced to punish him for his links with the Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential Islamist organisation in the Arab world and please the Zionist lobby. The fact is when Qaradawi last visited the UK in 2004, the Board of Deputies of British Jews handed to the police a dossier of Qaradawi's alleged statements and called upon them to prosecute him. It took the Crown Prosecution Service less than 48 hours to decide that there was simply no case against Qaradawi. The only Labour politician who refused to bow to the pressure was Mayor of London Ken Livingstone who ignored the media frenzy and welcomed the sheikh. The spokesman for the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has emerged with some credibility for his party when he said: "Many of Yusuf al-Qaradawi's views are repugnant; the job of a truly liberal society is to defeat such abhorrent ideas by arguing forcefully and persuasively against them." An interesting question to now ask this Government is this: “Since you have banned Sheikh al- Qaradawi on the grounds that he promotes violence will you also seek to ban George Bush from returning to the UK?” After all, this is a man whose lies have so far cost the lives of one million Iraqis and created more than four million Iraqi refugees.

Are we seriously going to enquire what the views of all visiting non-British nationals are on issues such as Israel and gay rights, before deciding to let them in? The hypocrisies of this cowardly government - and Hazel Blears' Department for Communities and Local Government in the main – are self evident. Brown seems to ignore the fact that the sheikh has huge support and credibility across the Muslim world but the ban has made him popular with those rabid, little dogs from the right-wing think tanks who want to introduce a Gucci or Versace-style, designer style Islam.

Let’s not forget how the now discredited think tank Policy Exchange tried to use fake and/or forged documents to hoodwink a Newsnight investigation to demonise the Muslim community in Britain. Thankfully, not all investigative journalists are asleep, and last October Newsnight’s editor Peter Barron ditched a so-called exclusive report on the Policy Exchange findings that claimed that a quarter of the 100 mosques their researchers had visited were selling hate literature. Anyone who has not seen this report should go on to this thread and get the BBC’s version of events which expose the Policy Exchange -

The enemies of Islam are circling and they want all Muslims to adopt an Islam which is servile to the West, an Islam devoid of sharia’h, jihad and caliphate. What have they got to fear from Muslims in Britain who simply want to uphold family values which were once held so dear in British communities before binge drinking, promiscuity and pill-popping became so commonplace?

There is no reason why Muslims can not contribute positively to Britain and elsewhere in the West without diluting their faith. You don’t ask it of other communities so why single us out for special treatment other than we are not equal in your eyes.

That great Muslim martyr Malcolm X once said: Sitting at the Table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on the plate. Being here in America does not make you an American. Being born here in America does not make you an American.” Now substitute America for Britain and give me the answer, Mr Brown. And to those self-elected Muslim leaders who sit in government circles I have a polite request: “Get up off your knees. You can only demand to be treated like an equal if you act like one.”  


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Benazir Bhutto’s assassination

The West adored Benazir Bhutto. She, spoke fluent English, was educated at Harvard and Oxford and she was not an Islamic fundamentalist.

There were no frenzied, flag-burning demonstrations where the main chant was: ‘death to America’ at any of her rallies.

This endeared her to Western leaders in just the same way as it made many of her own people view her with suspicion. As far as some Pakistani voters were concerned she was 'America 's choice' at a time when anti-Americanism is at an all-time high in Pakistan. Yet her return to the international political arena is a bit of a puzzle when you think about it. After all, she was largely ignored by America’s political elite for more than a decade until about 18 months ago.

The media rarely bothered her unless it was to mock her appalling performance as the twice-failed Pakistan Prime Minister. And during that period out of the political glare, a much more intrusive spotlight focused on the seemingly endless litigation in Spanish, Swiss and British courts over allegations of corruption. But her political comeback coincided with a rise in American criticism of Pakistan.

There has been a concerted campaign in the right wing American media to portray Pakistan as yet another Muslim country which needs to be pacified and civilized by US military intervention. During my most recent visits to America I’ve switched on TV or picked up newspapers to read about those talking openly about Washington contemplating regime-change in Islamabad. Much of this came after what appeared to be the Pakistani leadership's refusal to cooperate with American foreign policy on China, Iran, and Afghanistan.


America obviously needed a new best friend in the corridors of power. British-Pakistani historian, writer and political commentator Tariq Ali summed it up perfectly recently when he wrote: “Arranged marriages can be a messy business. Designed principally as a means of accumulating wealth, circumventing undesirable flirtations or transcending clandestine love affairs, they often don't work. Where both parties are known to loathe each other, only a rash parent, desensitised by the thought of short-term gain, will continue with the process knowing full well that it will end in misery and possibly violence. That this is equally true in political life became clear in the recent attempt by Washington to tie Benazir Bhutto to Pervez Musharraf.”


Assuming Tariq Ali is right, US propelled negotiations brought back Benazir from her self-imposed exile. But far from acting like a virginal bride, Benazir waded in to the bear pit of Pakistan politics with the gusto of a champion, bare knuckle fighter. Her disastrous return, marked by the trademark destruction of a suicide bomber killing 130 of her supporters, failed to deter her. Hard as nails she continued to tackle her opponents and detractors head-on. She called for Pakistan's feared intelligence service, the ISI, to be 'restructured', using the arguments of neo-cons and rightwing, US think-tanks.

 And in a press conference during her house arrest in Lahore in November she went as far as asking Pakistan army officers to revolt against the army chief.



Whatever you think of Benazir or her politics, surely her assassination deserves a thorough investigation to bring those responsible to justice?

This call was seen as an attempt to destroy the all powerful military from within – this was regarded as treachery beyond belief by some in uniform. It was a brave and reckless call. After all, you don’t wander into the lair of the beast making loud threats unless you have powerful allies ready to protect you. Undaunted, she continued to lash out at her adversaries without fear or favour. She even said she would consider handing over nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadir Khan to international investigators. He is a hero to most Pakistanis. And while some were catching their breath over that announcement, she then went on to say she would allow US forces to operate inside Pakistan. Some regarded it as a killer blow. Hours before her assassination Afghanistan’s leader Hamid Karzai, singled out Bhutto – and not Nawaz Sharif or any other political rivals – for a meeting after ending his official engagements in Islamabad. This was interpreted by many as a clear signal from Karzai to all Pakistanis, and especially to his rival President Pervez Musharraf, that he was endorsing Washington’s darling. Many Pakistanis do not trust Karzai and there are those who regard him as a US installed puppet.


America’s Bush Administration must have looked on with admiration as it continued to nudge and push Benazir to the abyss. May be it was pay back time since it was the United States which actively aided Benazir's rise to power in Pakistan in 1988. Of course that political meddling was discreet and confined to diplomatic channels and was never made public. This time, however, the support was so blatant it might even have marked her for assassination. United States Ambassador Anne Patterson and British High Commissioner Robert Brinkley were extremely vocal as they spurred on Benazir and other Pakistani politicians towards what was looking like an extremely dodgy election. Even US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher were shouting their encouragement from the wings along with their boss George W Bush and other western leaders.

But they are all silent now, aren’t they?

 I don’t hear any of them screaming for the United Nations to hold an investigation into the assassination of Benazir, and yet we all heard their calls for an international investigation when former Lebanese leader Rafik Al-Hariri was assassinated. Whatever you think of Benazir or her politics, surely her assassination deserves a thorough investigation to bring those responsible to justice? Sending in a couple of detectives from Scotland Yard does not do justice to her memory or, more importantly, the people of Pakistan. They, above anyone else, need closure to this terrible chapter in their history.

Was Washington planning a regime change? If so, then it has seriously backfired with Benazir being sacrificed as a martyr on the altar of Uncle Sam. That makes the Bush Administration just as guilty as the assassin who pulled the trigger on December 27 2007.


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Western Saharawis

The territory has been described as one of the most desolate places in the world. But it is also one of the most hotly disputed pieces of land on the planet as well, and has been the subject of a bitter battle for self determination and independence for decades.

The indigenous people say two thirds of their land has been annexed with many of them displaced and dispossessed. There are attempts to replace them with illegal settlers and there’s even a massive barrier, or wall, which has been built in defiance of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice.

Revolutionary leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez have voiced their support and solidarity for these Arabs. And no. I am NOT talking about Palestine.

What makes this story all the more tragic is the fact I am referring to the Western Saharawis who are demanding the right to vote for self determination at the very least.

In the meantime, land-grabbing Morocco is trying to convince the world that the Saharawis are happy to be part of Morocco and that only a few trouble-makers want independence.

If it is so confident of its position, why doesn’t Morocco allow the Saharawis a vote to determine their own future.

Morocco obviously wants to keep the Western Sahara for itself and create a Greater Morocco. King Mohamed VI of Morocco publicly insisted: "We shall not give up one inch of our beloved Sahara, not a grain of its sand.". Yet the similarities between the Western Saharawis and Palestinians is striking, but if I dare to make comparisons in some Arab circles I am castigated.

“We don’t need the Arab world divided anymore than it already is and the creation of another state will do nothing to help the Arab cause,” I was told by a respected politician from the Middle East.

However, neighbouring Algeria also sees itself as an important player in this conflict, although officially the country says it is merely defending the rights of nations to self-determination.

In the meantime the plight of nearly 200,000 refugees who live in spartan camps in a south west corner of Algeria, goes largely unoticed with the exception of a few aid agencies.

The UN has spent more than $600 million on peacekeeping efforts in over the last two decades. In the meantime, not one country or international organization recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara while more than 30 states around the world recognize the right of the indigenous people to have their own country. Even Morocco’s closest ally The United States of America is reluctant to intervene in the territory which is about the size of the state of Colorado.

But guess what? International apathy is about to change – oil and gas has been found in the region and there’s growing interest over the Boujdour Block, a 27 million acre expanse claimed by Western Sahara. The Block stretches from the Sahara's cliff-lined shores to depths of more than 10,000 feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Corporate America, and oil companies in China, Australia and elsewhere are starting to take an interest in what lies beneath the desert and ocean sands.

In the meantime, the struggle, led by the Polisario Front, which was originally formed in 1973 to fight Spanish colonialism, continues.

{mosimage}A UN settlement plan, based on a referendum in which the Western Saharan people would exercise their right to self-determination by choosing between independence and integration in Morocco, is deadlocked. Moroccan stalling and attempting to inflate the voter roll.

If you want a quick history lesson, here goes: Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; but a UN-organized referendum on final status has been postponed many, many times.

Meanwhile, the Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government-in-exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) is recognized by and has a seat on the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

What really concerns me now is the intransigent attitude of most of the Arab world to the plight of the Saharawis.

Why can’t they see that Morocco’s designs on expanding its territory into the Western Sahara will pose a long-term threat to the Palestinians and their struggle?

While they shout from the rooftops over illegal occupations, dispossessed people and the invasion of Israeli settlers they remain silent over the plight of the Saharawis. Even the late King Hassan II of Morocco reluctantly agreed that there should be a referendum. In the meantime Morocco, like Israel, continues to raise two fingers at the UN Security Council.

What concerns me is that the Zionist and/or pro-Israeli lobby in Washington is now beginning to support Morocco and their agenda is quite clear.

If Morocco can bend, twist and ignore international law – and win then it creates a very dangerous precedent.

Should the Moroccans finally succeed in getting UN support for their autonomy proposal—which bears a striking resemblance to the plan Israel would like to see the Palestinians accept – imagine how it will be seized upon and used against Palestine.

I can see the Israeli UN Ambassador proclaiming that if Morocco can overturn international law by getting legal approval for its illegal settlers in the occupied territory, then why can’t the UN Security Council do the same for Israel.

Just imagine, overnight the tens of thousands of illegal Israeli settlers would have legal status and Jerusalem would fall completely into the hands of the Zionist state.

Ironically, if this happens, it will have been delivered by the Arab countries which have supported Morocco’s outrageous claims.

In a nutshell, if Morocco’s land-grabbing activities are finally approved by the UN then Israel will have all the justification under international law it needs to do exactly the same. A precedent will have been set.

This is not some fantasy, this could be a grim reality. Friends of Morocco (and Israel) are presently working overtime in Washington trying to lobby support of Congress.

Morocco and its Arab supporters should hang their heads in shame because of the unholy alliances they are making to the detriment of the Palestinians.

The influential American Jewish Committee has already sent a letter of support for King Mohamed VI, who combines being chair of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Committee for Jerusalem with being one of Israel’s best friends in the Arab world.

And guess what? The fear factor is being ruthlessly and shamelessly used to garner support from politicians across the west.

Al Qaida terrorists are setting up training camps in the Polisario’s heartlands – a stuff of ridiculous nonsense but it sure fires up the republicans on Capitol Hill who fell hook, line and sinker for the links between Saddam and 9/11.

In the meantime the Saharawi people continue to suffer as do the Palestinians. You really can not support one without the other.

And if you deny the Saharawis then you are betraying the Palestinians.


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Britain’s Guantanamo

Politicians across the world are more open in their condemnation of Guantanamo Bay these days and a old friends of America have even said it should be closed down.

Criticism and calls for closure are being made quite openly by British government ministers now that Tony Blair's influence has gone.

But they are more reluctant to acknowledge the existence of another Guantanamo - one in their own backyard ... it is called HMP Long Lartin in England's leafy county of Wiltshire.

I was reminded recently of its existence, where men are being held without trial and without charge, when I tuned in to BBC Radio Four news.

I listened to a so-called news story which so stretched the bounds of credibility that I waited another hour for the bulletin to be repeated for confirmation.

The thrust of the story was that the Prison Officers Association, whose members act as wardens, has become concerned about Arabic-speaking imams secretly influencing other prison inmates.

Steve Gough, vice-chairman of the POA opined: "The type of people that we're now putting into prison, who have the ability to radicalise and have got a proven track record to radicalise, need a new type of control that we're not ready for and the Government doesn't appear to have put any thought into.

"It is the case that Abu Qatada, and there maybe others, I don't really know, are using prayer in a context that we don't understand.

"The reality is that most of the staff don't know what he's doing."

That’s because they don’t understand Arabic – but neither do the majority of inmates in Long Lartin prison where Abu Qatada is being held.

And let’s face it, if you don’t understand Arabic and are not Muslim, the likelihood of you trotting along to Friday prayers is remote.

So how often does Abu Qatada lead Friday prayers – the truth is very rarely, according to the Prison Service which confirmed that inmates at Long Lartin did pray as a group but were only allowed to read prayers on "rare" occasions.

"The small number of detainees in the specialist unit at Long Lartin prison pray as a group three times a day and individually in their cells twice a day," said a spokeswoman.

"The communal prayers are led by the prison's Imam who visits the unit on a daily basis. On the rare occasions when an Imam is unable to attend then a prisoner is chosen to read out the prayer of the day."

Exactly what was the motivation behind Steve Gough's very public outburst?

Could it have been one of those backdoor attempts to ignite a call to make all Muslims pray in English in the UK? Or is it simply an attempt to deflect attention from POA members who never seem to be around when Muslim prisoners are being attacked and on occasions even killed?

It is hard to believe that so-called high category prisoners can have boiling fat poured over them, and sustain other horrific injuries when they are supposed to be under the scrutiny of prison officers as was the case recently in HMP Frankland in Durham.

And I would also like to know who made Steve Gough judge and jury over the Long Lartin inmates he identified.

They should really be categorised as political detainees because these men have simply been interned and forgotten about by a government no longer interested in justice for all.

Let’s examine the case of the Long Lartin inmates – the so-called radicals that Steve Gough is talking about.

They are a group of Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian and Algerians. like the Guantanmo detainees, they are being held without trial and without charge – one has been inside since 1999 and his name is Abdul Bary.

Most of them are being held on flimsy immigration laws. Evidence against them is even more flimsy, often extracted under torture overseas. And they are not even allowed to see the evidence against them.

Long Lartin is really Britain’s own Guantanamo Bay without the orange suits.

If there is any real evidence against these men then why not put them on trial here and now? All of them would welcome a fair hearing where they are given exactly the same rights as any other defendant appearing before British courts.

Let’s examine the case of Abu Qatada – he is fighting extradition to Jordan, a country with an appalling human rights record. We know from Amnesty International reports that torture is in regular usage in the prisons.

Abu Qatada’s legal team say the only evidence against him was extracted under torture. Also known as Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, he is being denied justice.

The Jordanian national is fighting extradition to his home country where he has been convicted in his absence for terror attacks and yes, the evidence was supplied under torture.

The British Government is prepared to deport him to Jordan where we know he will be tortured. Yet this same Government has plenty to say abut the way Guantanamo Bay operates and says it should be closed down. There is a certain amount of hypocrisy here.

His lawyer Gareth Peirce said: "We understand that this decision is being monitored and watched by a number of other countries who are considering deporting individuals to regimes where they know they will be tortured."

"We abhor the thought of evidence in Guantanamo obtained by torture. We say what is the difference to sending someone to a military court to face evidence obtained from torture?"

Amnesty International UK campaigns director Tim Hancock said the group was "profoundly concerned" Siac had discounted evidence showing the risk of torture if Qatada was returned to Jordan.

This included material documenting the "routine infliction of torture on 'security suspects' in Jordan...a practice which continues with impunity".

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett once described him as the most significant extremist Islamic preacher in the UK.

Irresponsible journalists call him al-Qaida’s spiritual leader in Europe … without supplying any factual detail at all. They and Blunkett offered no proof to support the outrageous and defamatory statements.

Abu Qatada insists he has never met its leader, Usama Bin Ladin - a slightly odd fact if you're supposed to be running his European operations!

Articles on the BBC website proclaim: Abu Qatada, once described as Usama bin Ladin's right-hand man in Europe, is sometimes allowed to read prayers.

Where is the evidence? Who described him as Usama bin Ladin’s right-hand man? Why can’t they attribute their sources?

The Special Imigration Appeals Comission (SIAC) states in its summing up against Abu Qatada that he had "long-established connections with Usama bin Ladin and al-Qaida" and that he "held sway over extremists".

"He has given advice to many terrorist groups and individuals, whether formerly a spiritual adviser to them or not. His reach and the depth of his influence in that respect is formidable, even incalculable." SIAC said earlier this year.

Well where is the proof? Where is the evidence? We aren’t allowed to see it, more importantly Abu Qatada and his defence team are not allowed to see it – where is the justice in that?

Gordon Brown’s new home secretary has welcomed the latest court ruling against Abu qatada who recently lost his appeal against a Home Office move to deport him to Jordan.

The ruling is seen as the first test of a policy that seeks assurances deportees in terror cases will not be abused on return.


Abu Qatada’s legal team is to seek leave to appeal the deportation ruling. Gareth Peirce, his lawyer, has described the latest appeal as a "profoundly important” one that could have ramifications across the world.

Qatada, 45, has spent most of the past five years in prison in the UK under anti-terrorism and immigration laws. That’s five years away from his wife and five children.

The judgment by SIAC chairman Mr Justice Ouseley said members had concluded there was "no real risk of persecution of [Qatada]" on his return.

Well Mr Justice Ouseley proves one thing - the law most certainly is an ass!

But this case is significant because the government has been trying to secure deportations to countries accused of torture by securing special agreements that deportees will not be abused.

The agreement - called Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) - signed between the UK government and Jordan in 2005, aimed to guarantee that anyone deported to the country would not face torture or ill-treatment.

Most human rights organisations say the MoU is useless. It carries the same weight as the special understanding between the British and Algerian government. Six Algerian brothers got so fed up of the legal limbo in which they were held, that in the end they preferred to take a chance and go back home.

Two disappeared on arrival and have now turned up in prisons over there. Their letters to me have been soul-destroying. They other four must feel as though they are walking a daily tight-rope not knowing if they will be picked up and locked up.

Memorandum’s of Understanding are meaningless, with director of civil rights group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, saying "paper promises" were not enough.

"Dodgy little 'assurances' from regimes that practise torture convince few outside government," she said.

But a lawyer for the home secretary, Ian Burnett QC, had said it would be "extraordinary" if Jordan did not comply with its diplomatic assurances.

I'm not sure what cloud cuckoo land Ian Burnett lives in but he must be the legal version of a cross between Mary Poppins and Pollyanna.

Sadly, Abu Qatada is not the only one.

Let me briefly give you a run down of the other political detainees being held in Long Lartin.

The veteran of injustice is Abdul Bary, an Egyptian arrested in 1999 accused of the Kenyan Embassy bombing by US intelligence.

Evidence is flimsy, probably extracted under torture – he is still fighting extradition.

Moustafa Taleb, an Algerian, is fighting extradition to the country of his birth – although he was once given leave to stay in the UK. That was until the Ricin Plot came to the fore – and we all know about the Ricin Plot don’t we? It was laughed out of court and we would all still be laughing today if the consequences hadn't been so dire ... the loss of liberty for a group of Algerian men who had fled their own country to escape persecution from the brutal regime there.

Amer Makhlulif has been held since 2000 after the Americans wanted to extradite him on terror charges. The US actually dropped the case after three years when they admitted they had the wrong man.

So why couldn’t he walk free – ask the British Government. He is now fighting a deportation order to Algeria.

While he has been locked up all these years Makhlulif has utlisied his time to enhance his education, but now his Masters Degree through the Open University is under threat.

His source of funding has dried up and unless he can find money for the remaining five modules - £900 per module – his hard work will have been in vain.

If anyone can help sponsor a module please contact me at info AT and put 'education fund' in the subject field.

Now let's get back to Steve Gough. Before he talks about the radicalisation of prisoners in Long Lartin he might want to check the facts first.

And if he really wants to know what Abu Qatada and the other Long Lartin Muslims say during Friday prayers in their isolation, he should contact me and I will send him an english translation.

In return he might actually ask the question: "Why are my officers being asked to run a Guantanamo-style regime?"

I wonder if we'll hear that story on a BBC Radio 4 bulletin.


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Egypt’s judicial system

While Israel holds the Palestinian people under military occupation and Americans under political occupation it seems they also have also seized occupation of the legal system in neighbouring Egypt.

There can be no other reasonable explanation for the latest insane actions of Egypt's leader Hosni Mubarak whose long distance relationship with democracy is only matched by his record on human rights and justice.

If evidence is needed then look no further at the 226 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are awaiting military trial as I write this column or the 792 who have been detained without charge by the security forces since last spring.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a non-violent organisation which promotes peaceful politics and, in addition, expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people including Hamas. And that is the problem; it is the Muslim Brotherhood's attitude to Israel which has induced the US to order Mubarak to eliminate "the problem".

Hamas, as we know, is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the Bush Administration and the hugely powerful Zionist lobby in Washington.

Therefore in the simplistic, black and white world of the Busheys, anyone who shows solidarity with Hamas must be a terrorist.

As a direct result of the nursery school politics of the neo-cons, last Sunday, hidden away in the Egyptian desert, a black comedy was being played out in a military court which saw some of Egypt's finest academics and business elite in the dock.

Facing trumped up charges and a judicial system so warped and twisted by Mubarak, scores of senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood were crowded into courtroom cages.

I was denied access as a British journalist to witness the unfolding farce but as I stood outside in the burning desert sun I was not alone - the former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark and several other leading human rights campaigners had also been refused access ... may be in the daft belief if we couldn't see the injustice we might go away quietly.

Mubarak is a desperate man, clinging on to the last vestiges of power in a white knuckle drama we have seen played out so many across the globe by American-controlled dictators who have oppressed their own people without mercy.

This latest disgraceful chapter in the ruling life of Mubarak opened on January 28 in the Cairo Criminal Court when the judges ruled all charges brought by the Egyptian Government against the detained members of the Muslim Brotherhood were groundless and politically motivated.

Eager to please his US masters (America gives more dollar aid to Egypt than to any other country in the world apart from Israel) Mubarak had the whole lot re-arrested to be tried in a military court ... on exactly the same charges they had been cleared in the civilian court.

Rulings of military justice are final and can't be challenged. Well that's one way of silencing your political opponents and knocking out vocal critics of the Zionist State, isn't it?

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other concerned groups have condemned the actions, but what does Mubarak care?

Well actually he should care. I can smell revolution in the air on the streets of Cairo, and not just from the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ordinary Egyptians are fed up with the tinpot dictator who has restricted their freedoms and liberties in a bid to smother any dissenting voices.

By any peaceful means necessary, there is a growing resistance to bring down Mubarak and his brutal regime.

The youth are turning to the internet using blogs to fuel the dissent - some have even joined the Brotherhood behind bars for their work.

Others are campaigning, petitioning, marching and protesting. I turned up at one such event in central Cairo the other night and as I stared into the eyes of the military who returned the gaze from behind their crash helmets, I could see their hearts were no longer in the job of oppressing and bullying fellow citizens.

The iron-like grip Mubarak once had on his people is fast disappearing. The fear has been replaced by anger towards the injustices against every dissenting voice.

But it is Mubarak's attempt to use and abuse the courts to stop the Brotherhood advancing further into Egypt's mainstream politics which has irrepairably damaged him.

The country's strongest opposition group operates openly despite being officially banned. The Brotherhood won nearly one fifth of the seats in the lower house of parliament in 2005, its members running as independents to bypass the 53-year-old ban on the group.

Mubarak's latest actions to settle political scores and stifle freedom will be his undoing. He has called the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood a threat to national security, but it is the President himself who is the greatest liability.

As far as dictator's go Mubarak has much in common with America's other tyrants - he is not too bright, has psycho tendencies and is unable to tolerate any criticism.

I believe he has the shelf life of many US puppets ... in other words his days are numbered. Who remembers the Shah, and ofcourse we will not forget Saddam in a hurry either?

But when Mubarak does fall, and fall he will, then the Egyptian people must be allowed to take control of their own future and carve out their own style of democracy without outside interference.

And then, and only then, will the days of the Pharoahs be truly consigned to history.


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The value of Blood Money

Libya is still in the process of paying compensation to the relatives of those who lost loved ones in the Lockerbie air disaster of 1988.

While it is difficult to put a value on anyone’s life, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s offer of $10 million dollars per passenger, $270 in total – was deemed acceptable by both George W Bush and Tony Blair.

I’m not really sure how the price was reached. Could it have been down to skin colour or class? No, nothing as overtly racist or imperialistic as that, I’m sure; it probably had more to do with zip codes, passports, nationalities and oil.

On Blair’s farewell vanity tour it is worth noting that during his cosy desert farewell with his new best friend Colonel Gaddafi they were also joined in the Sahara by BP Chairman Peter Sutherland. Hours later BP said it has signed a £450 million agreement, with the prospect of 17 oil wells being drilled. A spokesman added that if all this exploration reached its full potential the deal could be worth £13 billion which almost makes Gaddafi’s 'blood money' pale into insignificance.

Oil deals aside, it is the first time any compensation has been awarded to the bereaved families of those killed in a terrorist atrocity by a state designated a sponsor of terrorism. As I have said many times before, I can not differentiate between a Stealth Bomber or a suicide bomber; other than the fact the Stealth pilot usually wipes out more innocents and can always fly back to base, re-load and return to drop more bombs of death and destruction as many times as is deemed necessary.

Both these methods of killing wipe out innocents, and therefore both are to be condemned. Neither is carried out with military precision and I think we all recognise now there is no such thing as a surgical strike. So should Britain, America, Israel and other states who kill innocent civilians follow Libya’s lead and pay compensation to the families of loved ones blown apart by indiscriminate bombing?

I was one of the first journalists into Lockerbie that ghastly night in December 1988, just as I was one of the first journalists to get into the Palestinian town of Jenin in April 2002 where more than 50 men, women and children were slaughtered by the Israeli Army. (The United Nations was stopped by Israel from investigating war crimes). A year later I was in Afghanistan to watch a grieving mother bury ALL of her nine children from a babe in arms to her teenage daughter after a US laser guided missile was deliberately sent into her home.

And I can faithfully record that the twisted, blown up limbs of the passengers on Pan Am flight 103 were very similar to the blackened, bloated, broken corpses dragged from the rubble in Jenin and that family home in the village of Bermil near Shkin in Paktika. Not only did they all look the same but the smell of death which hung in the air was identical.

However, there was a difference; the majority of the 270 Pan Am passengers were Westerners with 189 of the victims being Americans making Lockerbie the deadliest attack on US civilians until 9/11. Like it or not, the life of a Westerner is worth so much more than someone from the Muslim world.

The Pan Am families also had the benefit of excellent lawyers from the top New York law firm, Kreindler & Kreindler. On a point of interest, families of those who perished in 9/11 have so far received an immediate payment of $50,000. The average award is expected to be $1.8 million with the final award being based on the victim's age, number of dependents and earning power.

And no, I don’t begrudge any of them a single dollar.

But if there is to be any justice in this world then there has to be equality and sadly we live in a world where your nationality, passport and postcode does have a value.

I have often said Muslim blood is cheap and there are rivers of it pouring through Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon and elsewhere at the moment. The only time I have been aware of America offering any compensation was in May 2003 when a total of 11 Afghan children were wiped out in an air strike on their home by mistake.

One of the grieving mothers I interviewed at the time had lost all of her nine children. She was given less than 10,000 dollars in blood and hush money and an apology from a US commander who turned up later in a 15-vehicle, heavily armed convoy. And I have to say that was only forthcoming when the US military heard a Western journalist (me) was investigating their war crime.

If Sawara Khan had lived in Lockerbie she would have been awarded 90 million dollars by Colonel Gaddafi, but life in Afghanistan is so much cheaper.

She told me at the time: “Some say I am a lucky to be alive but I am not a survivor. I can't count myself blessed. I am also a dead person now. I am dead inside. All my children have gone. My two-year-old boy Hazrat was crushed to death as he lay in my arms.

“It is like hell has visited our home. On Tuesday I had a family and by Wednesday I had nothing.” I clearly remember the words of the dead children’s father Mawes who said: “Nothing will ever be able to compensate me for the loss of my family. How can you put a price on a human body?”

May be that is a question that Tony Blair might want to address before he leaves office; after all there are at least 650,000 dead on his illegal war in Iraq, and the tens of thousands of innocents who have perished in Afghanistan.



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Hijab Ban in Tunsia

I have a bee in my bonnet – or hijab to be more precise. On an almost daily basis there are horrific stories pouring out of Tunisia about how the state police are ripping off the hijabs of women living there.

Some of these women, who are merely fulfilling their religious obligation to wear a hijab, have been assaulted, sexually abused and even locked up in prison by the authorities.

Unbelievable when you consider western tourists are topless sunbathing on the coastal resorts, soaking up the Tunisian sun.

So it is okay to get your kit off if you are a western tourist who pays handsomely for sun, sand, sex and sangria …but try wearing a hijab and see what happens in this so-called liberal, Muslim country.

At the moment I am in Tehran where Iranian police are occasionally stopping women in the streets to remind them of their religious obligations by wearing a full hijab.

There's been an outcry in the Western media about how the Iranian authorities are fining women who fail to wear their hijabs correctly in public.

I call these women the half-jabis – you know the ones, they balance their designer scarfs precariously on the back of their heads and spend the rest of the day adjusting and picking their scarfs from the nape of their necks.

It might have endeared Princess Diana to half the Muslim world when she 'covered' in Muslim countries, but most women who try and emulate the Di style just look plain stupid.

But what a pity those same journalists don't travel to Tunisia and write about a real story like the human rights abuses against women in down town Tunis instead of focusing on Tehran.

Why do journalists choose to ignore the Amnesty International report which outlines in clinical detail how the Tunisian authorities have increased their "harassment of women who wear the hijab"?

Is it because the Tunisian government is a craven devotee of the Bush Administration whereas Iran was identified as the now infamous Axis of Evil?

Surely the media is not that fickle? (Rhetorical question merely for the benefit of the mentally challenged).

The actions of the Tunisian regime make Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government look like a group of Tupperware party planners.

For instance, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Secretary-General of Tunisia's ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, have stated they are so concerned about rise in the use of the hijab by women and girls and beards and the qamis (knee-level shirts) by men, that they have called for a strict implementation of decree 108 of 1985 of the Ministry of Education banning the hijab at educational institutions and when working in government.

Police have ordered women to remove the head scarfs before being allowed into schools, universities or work places and others have been made to remove them in the street.

According to Amnesty's report, some women were arrested and taken to police stations where they were forced to sign written commitment to stop wearing the hijab.

Amnesty International states quite clearly it believes that individuals have the right to choose whether or not to wear a headscarf or other religious covering, consistent with their right to freedom of expression.

They have called on the Tunisian government to "respect the country's obligations under both national law and international human rights law and standards, and to end the severe restrictions which continue to be used to prevent exercise of fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly".

They have even kindly asked President Ben Ali's government to "end the harassment and attempted intimidation of human rights defenders".

I would like to be more forthright with Mr Ben Ali and remind him of his Islamic obligations as a Muslim.

I doubt if Zine Alabidin Ben Ali would take much notice. The man is clearly an arrogant fool and somewhere in Tunisia there is a village which is missing its idiot (Hamman-Sousse in the Sahel, actually).

This is the man who once said the hijab was something foreign and not part of Tunisian culture. Hmm, he obviously has not seen pictures taken before he came to power, clearly show Tunisian women going about their business fully covered.

He has a history of despising the French colonialists who occupied his country, but at least under the French, the Tunisian people had more freedom than they do now.

And since I have no family, friends or connections in Tunisia I write this without fear or favour.

Also, there is no rank in Islam so I care nothing for his title nor do I have any respect for him as a man. I would certainly never doff my cap to this particular President of Tunisia and would happily spit in his face if he told me to remove my hijab.

Perhaps those Muslim women in Tehran might like to consider the plight of their sisters in Tunisia before trying to balance their hijabs on the backs of their heads. And I would ask them to read the harrowing report below before bellyaching to more journalists about their rights to parade around like Diana-look-a-likes.

It was written by an imam from Tunisia who had it smuggled out and given to me because he wants the world to know exactly what is happening to the women in his country.

Here is a snippet: "The police will randomly make their way into markets and rip the hijabs from women's heads as well as take away any fabrics being sold to make hijabs.

"They will also go into factories where women are working and rip the hijabs off women's heads. This

is the least of what they have done.

"I will give you just one example of what these dogs with Arab faces but the hearts of devils, have done to

our sisters. They have, at one time ordered a public bus to halt in the middle of the road while two plain clothes detectives went inside. The buses are similar to the ones in the west except they will usually have three times more people inside it.

"They grabbed one women wearing hijab and

took her outside of the bus. This was a sister who they had warned before. They brought her into the side of the street and began slapping her across her face and cursing at her with the worst language you could think of.

"They took her hijab off and the main policeman

said, "When are you going to stop wearing this ****. She said she would never stop and she was crying. The men took her around the corner by a

public bathroom.

"They ripped her clothes off. They grabbed a soda bottle, these bottles are made of glass, and they raped her with it. They were laughing and they were many people around but no one did anything. When they were done they made her wear a short skirt and a sleeveless shirt and made her walk home to her husband like this. I swear by Allah that this is true".

The time is fast approaching when sisters across the world have to unite and come together in defence of the hijab and in defence of the Muslim sisterhood.

My appeal goes out to feminists of all faiths and no faith but please don't think Muslim women are weak because the reality is that Islamic feminism can be just as radical as western feminism.

Our parameters and values are slightly different as Muslims but that does not make us any better or lesser human beings than western feminists. There is certainly no room for sectarianism in the Muslim sisterhood and we have no time for petty squabbles, divisions, cultural or tribal affiliations.

The bottom line is that we need to show solidarity with our sisters in Tunisia … it is a very small country which makes it easy for the army to control the people and brutally squash any signs of resistance.

Even those Tunisians living abroad have a fear in their eyes because while they may be safe, members of their families left behind are often held to account for any actions overseas regarded as subversive.

The brutality of the regime, combined with the happy clappy clerics and their narcotic-style preachings in praise of the Sufi-style government have also collectively subdued parts of the Tunisian population.

No wonder the Muslim youth no longer clamour to get into masjids on Fridays to listen to these khateebs who spend half the khutbah praising the President and his followers.

Which is why I salute the bravery of those sisters in Tunisia who are fighting for the right to fulfill their religious obligation as Muslim women, to wear the hijab.

If you want to help, then copy and paste this article and send it to the nearest Tunisian Embassy demanding that Muslim womens' rights to wear the hijab are respected.


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British sailors held in Iran

I must confess that the events of the last few days involving British woman Faye Turney and her Royal Navy shipmates have filled me with mixed emotions.

Faye is a captive of the Iranian Government and I can't help drawing parallels with my days as a prisoner of the Taliban way back in September 2001.

Like Faye, I was simply doing my job and just like her I ended up being plastered across the world's newspapers portrayed as a victim of an evil, brutal regime.

Funnily enough, I went tresspassing too. Although to be fair to Faye she might not have realised she was entering Iranian waters whereas I was caught banged to rights for my illegal trip into Afghanistan without a passport and visa.

And, just like Faye, once my captors realised I was a nicotine addict, they kept me topped up in cigarettes for the duration of my ordeal.

Mercifully, the Taliban did not parade me with fag in gob for the media, that would have been too cruel ... my mother would never have forgiven me! She despised my cigarette habit and would certainly not have approved of me puffing away in public, stressed or otherwise.

I do hope Faye's ordeal does come to a rapid end. It is not much fun being anyone's prisoner but she should count her blessings that she's in the hands of the Iranians.

Imagine if she had been caught by the Americans? By now she would have been shaved, shackled and sodomised at the very least in her first week of capitivity.

She would almost certainly be wearing an orange jumpsuit after being thrown into a rat-infested cage via a rendition flight to Guantanamo.

I just thank God that she was, like me, captured by an evil, brutal regime instead of the US military!

George Bush and Tony Blair's indignation over her arrest, and the Western tabloid outpourings regarding Faye's black headscarf has certainly been something to behold. Although, with regard to the head covering, to a certain extent, I can see their point - by contrast the Taleban issued me with a rather fetching little hijab, a sort of autumnal blend of colours. Black can be too drab without the right accessories.

Muslims don't have any such fashion dilemmas when they find themselves in the hands of the British or the Americans because there's nothing like a good old fashioned hood over the head to hide your blushes, and some sticky tape across your mouth will certainly curtail such anti-social and potentially life-threatening habits like smoking.

We only know this because those nice folk from the US and British military were thoughtful enough to take lots of pictures and videos of their treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Basra, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

How thoughtful, as I say, to hide their identities and prevent them from being publicly paraded in the same way as Faye and her naval colleagues.

And of course a hood over the head would have stopped them from talking publicly infront of the cameras about how they strayed into Iranian waters under the orders of the UK military.

Mind you, the Brits appear to have become regular little chatterboxes haven't they? According to declassified US documents Khalid Sheikh Mohamed had to be coaxed with CIA watersports before he overcame his shyness.

I wonder if like the Australian David Hicks, the British naval crew will be allowed to enjoy five years in solitary confinement before being charged with anything?

Given the choice, what do you think Faye and her mates would prefer - Western justice Bush and Blair-style or Islamic justice?

Just in case you are struggling with an answer, here are some clues to help you supplied by my man in Virginia who has outlined below some of the CIA's Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.

All have been tried and tested on Muslim detainees at secret locations on military bases in regions from Asia to Eastern Europe.

* The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach designed to cause pain, but not internal injury.

* Long Time Standing: Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours.

* The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

* Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaida suspect Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won their admiration when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess.

According to Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department's office of counterterrorism: "What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets."

Ah, ha. So now we know. Those devious Iranians are trying to build up a relationship of trust with their captives by acting in a civilised manner.

Quick George, Tony ... get the Brits out now before it is too late!


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Power and Compromise

Groucho Marx once said he would never join a club that would accept him as a member, and I am afraid I feel pretty much the same way about being on the Muslim 100 power list.

You see I've never been one for lists, and ever since I hit bottom in a maths test, I've found lists to be devisive, troublesome things.

Thirty years on, I now find myself on two lists ... neither has credibility, prestige or privilege in my humble opinion.

Although I have to admit that being on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Watch List means I do get to be 'randomly selected' for special treatment and an interview every time I fly in to America.

Quite what I am going to gain by being on the Muslim 100 list is beyond me, although I notice the Islamic Bank of Britain are the main sponosrs ... perhaps as one of their customers they will give me a wedge of greenbacks ... no questions asked. Now that would make me view the list in a different light.

Cash for listings ... hmm, doesn't really have the same ring as Cash for Peerages, does it?

For those of you who don't know, the Power 100 is a list of Muslims who are judged to have contributed positively to the UK. Singer Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, was included alongside Irene Khan, of Amnesty and some Jack Tar called Rear Admiral Amjad Hussain.

Entrepreneurs, arms dealers, actors, academics, journalists, cops and Establishment butt kissers also made it to the top 100.

Yes, I said arms dealers. At least one person in that room has sold arms to the Israelis ... and should someone who has helped tool up the fourth largest army in the world - an army which uses its weapons on Palestinian women and children - be given such recognition?

But what intrigued me more than anything else was just who wasn't on the list. Aki Nawaz, who has almost iconic status in Eastern Europe, and is much-loved by Britain's Muslim youth failed to make the list which shows just how out of touch were the organisers and judges.

Aki, is well recognised by mainstream media and is a regular guest and public commentator on the BBCs various political and discussion shows both radio and TV, much loved and loathed for his satire as well as his music.

Ahmed Versi, editor of Britain's oldest Muslim newspaper was also missing although there were a number of media luvvies on the list who have the cheek to describe themselves as journalists. Could it be that Ahmed was ignored for having the most established Muslim Awards event in the UK ... where all the nominees listed are picked by ordinary members of the public? Surely not? I thought sour grapes was haram!

Then there is Mohamed Zubagne, a genuine pillar of society who uses his wealth to good purpose and is the developer behind the magnificent East London Mosque. I mean how could anyone overlook a man of such stature?

His contribution to charities is, I believe, hard to rival and I personally know that he does a huge amount of work in the Muslim communities both home and abroad for which he seeks neither credit, reward or applause.

Moazzam Begg, ex-Guantanamo detainee, is a regular commentator on mainstream media, a best-selling author and he made it on to the male magazine GQ's top 100 men list 2006 - not bad going. He is now a senior figure in Cage Prisoners, which is fast becoming one of the most influential human rights organisations which has produced reports on rendition flights, ghost detainees and prisoners of conscience used by the likes of Amnesty International and the United Nations.

Lawyers Natalia Garcia and Muddassar Arani are both influential as role models to young Muslimahs who aspire to become legal eagles. Last year Arani was credited by The Times for a High Court challenge by her which achieved a landmark ruling against the Government over its use and abuse of Control Orders.

Chosen as the Times' Lawyer of the Week last spring, she said she entered the profession "to fight for the most disadvantaged in society. Since then I have unintentionally become a combatant (not unlawful) in the fight against Islamophobia and the erosion of our civil liberties."

She has won several other awards but failed to make the Power 100.

Other entries included non-British citizens including the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan and Pakistan politician/cricket legend Imran Khan. If they are being rewarded by the Islamic Bank of Britain, in association with Carter Andersen – to recognise Muslims who have made significant contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of Britain - then it could be argued what about Californian Hamza Yusuf and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf?

American boxing legend Mohamed Ali, a real heavyweight, should also have been included on the grounds that he has inspired and influenced millions in Britain alone.

So why on earth was I put on the list? I hear you ask. And it is a valid question. Perhaps you can give an answer because I really don't know.

Last year I received an award at the British Muslim Honours in the House of Lords, and my favourite peer Lord Nazir Ahmed came bounding over to me and said: "Why should you be honoured? All you've ever done is call for zero tolerance towards the police."

Quite what Lord Naz would make of my inclusion in the Power 100 is anyone's guess. But at least he speaks his mind and, when push came to shove, he was prepared to join me in Afghanistan to ask the Taleban to hand over an Italian photographer being held hostage by the turbanned, beardy ones.

If you're still in any doubt about the credibility of this list, just check out the names of the sponsors and the judges and then look over the names on the list again.

I'm sure if Helen Mirren was one of the judges at the recent British Academy of Film and Television Awards, the Bafta for her magnificent portrayal in the film Queen would not have had the same impact.

Here is the list and the judges et al ... check it out for yourself.


The Muslim Power 100 List

Abdul Jaffer Chairman of Bournemouth Football Club
Abid Mufti CEO United Bank
Lord Adam Patel House of Lords
Dr Ahmed Moustafa Artist and scholar
Ahmad Salam Head of Islamic Finance, Credit Suisse
Ahsan Ellahi Managing Director Real Estate Europe HSBC
Aamer Anwar Aamer Anwar and Co Solicitors
Amin Mawji Partner, Ernst and Young
Amin Tejani Executive Chairman LPC
Lord Amir Bhatia OBE House of Lords
Amir Khan Boxer
Amjad Hussain Director General Logistics (Fleet)
Amjid Ali Head of HSBC Amanah UK, HSBC
Anila Baig Journalist, The Sun
Sir Anwar Pervez Chairman, Bestway
Aaqil Ahmed Commissioning Editor Religion Channel Four
Art Malik Actor
Arif Patel Managing Director, Falsaltex
Arif Mushtaq Director, LTSB
Ashraf Piranie Finance Director, Islamic Bank of Britain
Emma Clark Author and Garden Designer
Dr Farhan Nizami Nizami, Founder Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies
Firoz Kassam Chairman, Firoka Group
Fuad Nahdi Editor, Q News
Gai Eaton Author
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui Leader, Muslim Parliament of Great Britain
Sir Gulam Noon Chairman, Noon Products
Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani Founder, Arab Women’s Forum
Habib Motani Partner Head of Derivatives, Clifford Chance
Hanif Lalani Finance Director, BT
Dr Hany El Banna President, Islamic Relief
Haroon Khan CEO, Prime TV
Farouq & Haroon Sheikh CareTech Holdings Plc
Dr Haseena Lockhat Author
Dr Humayon Dar CEO, Dar AL Isithmar
Imran Khan Partner, Imran Khan Solicitors
Imran Khan Cricketer and Politician
Iqbal Ahmed CEO, Seamark
Sir Iqbal Sacranie OBE Ex Secretary General, MCB
Irene Khan Secretary General, Amnesty International
Irfan Qadir Director, Bank of Ireland
James Caan CEO, Hamilton Bradshaw
Javed Khan Finance Director, Premier League
Javed Khan Chief Education Officer, Harrow Council
Khalid Mahmood MP, House of Commons
Khurshid Drabu Judge
Dr Manazir Ahsan Director General, Islamic Foundation, Leicester
Massoud Shadjareh Founder, Islamic Human Rights Commission
Mirza Ahmed Chief Legal Officer, Birmingham City Council
Mohamad Al Fayed Chairman, Harrods
Mohamed Ali CEO, Islam Channel
Lord Mohamed Sheikh House of Lords
Mohammad Qayyum Director, Institute of Islamic Banking and Insurance
Mohammad Sarwar MP House of Commons
Mohammed Amin Partner PWC
Moazzam Malik Deputy Director DFID
Muhammad Abdul Bari Secretary General MCB
Museji Ahmed Takolia Chairman, Metropolitan Housing
Naaz Coker Chairman, St Georges NHS Trust
Nadir Lilani Founder 99p Stores
Naguib Kheraj Finance Director, Barclays Bank
Nazir Afzal Senior Director, Crown Prosecution Service
Lord Nazir Ahmed House of Lords
Noorzaman Rashid Harvey Nash Plc LONDON
Perween Warsi Director S&A Foods
Peter Sanders Photographer, Peter Sanders Photography
Pinky Lilani OBE Culinary Writer
Baroness Pola Uddin House of Lords
Rafique Patel Partner, Harvey Ingram
Rageh Omaar Journalist, Al Jazeera
Ruhi Hamid Documentary Film Maker
Sadiq Khan MP, House of Commons
Sajjad Karim MEP, European Parliament
Salma Yaqoob Politician, Respect Party
Salman Iqbal CEO, ARY Digital
Salman Amin President, Pepsi Co UK and Ireland
Sarah Joseph Editor, Emel Magazine
Sayeeda Warsi Deputy Chair, Conservative Party
Shahid Malik MP, House of Commons
Shahid Azeem Entrepreneur, Arkensis
Shami Ahmed Founder Joe Bloggs
Shamshad CEO, Stem Cells
Syed Jaffery CEO, Casualty Plus
Syed Kamall MEP, European Parliament
Sahibzada Syed Lakhte Hassanain Founder, Muslim Hands
Dr Tahir Abbas Director of Birmingham University’s Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Culture
Tariq Gaffur Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police
Tariq Ramadan Theologist
Tariq Modood MBE Professor, Bristol University
Dr Wali Tasar Uddin MBE Chairman, Bangladeshi Association
Waqar Azmi Head of Diversity, Cabinet Office
Waqar Ahmad Assistant Vice Chancellor, Middlesex University
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown Journalist, Independent
Yasmin Hussain Equality Director, National Assembly for Wales
Yasmin Qureshi Human Rights Advisor to Ken Livingstone GLC
Yusaf Islam Singer
Yvonne Ridley Journalist, Islam Channel
Zahida Manzoor CBE Legal Services Ombudsman
Zareen Roohi Ahmed Head of British Muslim Forum


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Torture, Tyrants and Tunisia

Long before I became a Muslim, the North African country of Tunisia used to evoke two images in my mind … a sunny holiday destination for drunken chavs* and a temporary home base for Palestinian leader-in-exile, Yassir Arafat.

I don’t suppose you could imagine two more different images than soccer-mad, binge-drinking Westerners and the revolutionary PLO chief who turned the Palestinian keffiyah into a worldwide symbol of heroic resistance.

The reason why I remember the Palestinian issue quite so vividly is because the country’s capital Tunis was bombed by the Israel Air Force killing more than 70 people in April, 1986. It was a sledgehammer-nut act of pure revenge from the Israeli Government after three of their Mossad agents had been executed by PLO fighters.

Two Arabs and an Englishman had boarded a yacht in the touristy Cypriot port of Larnaca, and carried out the execution in cold blood. The Englishman, Ian Davison, came from my birthplace Tyneside and his part in the gunning down of the three spies caused quite a stir back home, as you might imagine.

I flew out to Cyprus to interview Davison in prison, it was a scoop which earned me an industry award but more importantly, it was one of those defining moments: a-road-to-Damascus-vision, which led to me gaining a true insight into the injustices against the Palestinians.

Now the reason images of drunken holidaymakers comes to mind follows an incident in which the husband of a friend of mine disgraced himself by getting horribly drunk on his first night at a Tunisian resort. He fell into the company of some local Arabs who managed to persuade the inebriated idiot to buy a camel for the bargain price of $500 dollars.

Threatened with having to spend his entire vacation selling camel rides on the beach, by his furious wife, he managed to persuade the locals to buy back the camel for a mere $200 dollars … the depreciation value of camels taken into account.

Of course, it appears, the present government in Tunisia would rather play host to a bunch of drunken fools and kiddy fiddlers from the West these days. Obviously the memory of the murderous Israeli blitz 30 years ago has completely faded now that the government has found a cash cow in the wallets and purses of soused westerners and European paedophiles who see the North African country as their playground. (German paedophiles in particular).

If you need proof of the fickle nature of the Tunisian president let me remind you that last year Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali suffered a huge dose of political amnesia when he invited the war criminal Ariel Sharon to visit his country. Has the man no shame? Apparently not.

Just like the previous Tunisian tyrant, he would rather kiss the rump of Zionists while getting on his knees to Western leaders than stand tall infront of his own people.

In fact thanks to the brutal rule of Ben Ali, I now think of something else whenever the name of Tunisia is mentioned. I think of torture, detention without trial, political and religious persecution.

Recently I joined a group of brothers and sisters at a rally outside the Tunisian Embassy in London, there were similar demonstrations held at Tunisian embassy buildings around the world.

It now seems Ben Ali is ripping the hijab off the heads of our sisters and abusing the most basic human rights and so we were protesting in defence of our Tunisian sisters … and Islam.

I know Jacques Chirac did the same in France, but France is a secular country in the West, not an Arab Muslims country in North Africa.

Curtains began twitching on the third floor as the protest outside the Tunisian Embassy in London grew to a few score. I was told someone was filming the protestors and, if any were recognised, their families would be visited back home.

This sort of intimidation is disgusting. One minute Ben Ali is trying to be more West than Westerners by talking of civilisation, modernism and human rights but all the time he is quietly sanctioning the brutalisation of our hijab-wearing sisters, practising brothers and campaigners for justice.

One courageous sister told me how she fled Tunisia a few years ago fearing for her life, and she recalled how she arrived in Britain with her hijab in her pocket.

Well it is high time Ben Ali and his revolting crew of craven ministers and hyprocrites are exposed and so I hope this column is copied and published elsewhere.

It is important that Westerners learn about the cruelty and brutality of this leader. Perhaps they will think twice about heading out to the North African country to holiday now that they know not far from the postcard images there is real misery and torture.

The Holy Quran has been banned and desecrated in the cages and dungeons where prisoners of conscience are beaten if they dare to pray outside of allotted times.

Of course those pathetic, cringing, lick-spittling toadies who support this despicable Tunisian government will try and tell me about the president’s approval rating of 95pc. No one seriously believes that statistic … not even Ben Ali.

The man is as popular as a packet of pork scratchings at a Muslim wedding.

If he really thought he had 95pc of Tunisians supporting him he wouldn’t need to rule with a rod of iron and surround himself with huge security and thugs for bodyguards.

Like every dictator, his time will come and the sooner the better.

If he seriously wants the support of his people, their respect and a long term future as leader then he has to seriously change his style of government.

The first thing he can do is empty the prisons of political prisoners which accounts for around 30,000 of the 10 million population and start working alongside his political opponents, instead of trying to silence them.

As a priority I would also call on him to apologise to all of my Tunisian sisters and return their veils so they can wear them once again without fear in schools, universities, offices and factories.

I find it difficult to believe this man could hate the hijab so much that he even ripped it off the heads of pregnant women. I was astounded to learn that no one wearing a hijab is allowed into a maternity ward or hospital.

His deliberate plotting against Islam will come back to haunt him either through revolution on the streets of Tunisia or in the Hereafter. Personally speaking, I prefer revolution – bring it on!

Albert Einstein once said: “Never do anything against conscience even if the state demands it.” Well he was born in Germany and not brought up in Tunisia.

However, I do salute the heroic resistance of the Tunisian brothers and sisters who are risking their very lives to protect Islam in defiance of the State.

Just as Ben Ali will receive his just desserts in the next life they shall also receive their reward, insh’Allah. Someone should tell the Tunisian tyrant that eternity is one hell of a lot longer than three score years and ten.

* To learn more about the struggle please read: Tunisia: Injured Islam by Sheikh Mohamed Al Hadi Al Zamzami


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© 2012 Yvonne Ridley

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