Posts Tagged ‘Yvonne Ridley’

Respect Annual Conference 2009

Salma Yaqoob at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

The Respect Annual Conference was held in Birmingham this year.

The Respect annual conference took place in Birmingham on Saturday with 210 delegates attending. The event revolved around the three key themes of our general election campaign: anti-racism and defense of multiculturalism, opposition to the cuts agenda of the mainstream parties, and international solidarity.

The opening session was introduced by Respect party leader Salma Yaqoob. Salma laid into New Labour for creating the conditions under which the BNP has grown; with its attacks on the Muslim community and increasingly anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Salma Yaqoob speaks at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

Salma Yaqoob

She described how, since 9/11, Labour has resisted any examination of the disastrous role of its own foreign policy in creating a homegrown terrorist threat, leaving the impression that there is something intrinsic to the religon and culture of British Muslims that presents a threat to British society. She cited Jack Straw’s attacks on Muslim women who wear niqab; the attacks on mainstream Muslim organisations like the MCB and MAB for “sitting on the sidelines” in the fight against terrorism from the former Secretary for State for Communities, Ruth Kelly; and the Preventing Violent Extremism agenda, now described by Liberty as the ‘biggest spying operation’ since the Cold War.

Delegates at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

Conference delegates

Similarly when Gordon Brown says that he wants ‘British jobs for British workers’, or ‘local homes for local people’, or curbs on immigration, he is stoking the fires of fear and intolerance that the BNP are the primary beneficiaries of. Salma challenged myths about immigrants being responsible for the recession or shortages in housing and concluded by emphasising Respect’s twin track approach in tackling racism: On the one hand, upholding and defending multiculturalism and challenging all forms of racism; and on the other hand, challenging the social inequality that allows the politics of resentment and division to breed.

The following discussion was by far the best of the conference. Not only was the quality of contributions largely very impressive, but they also conveyed a deep sense of commitment to tackling racism and an engagement in that struggle.

George Galloway at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

George Galloway

The second session was introduced by George Galloway, focusing on the recession and the politics of an alternative to economic crisis. Unfortunately, the discussion became distorted by those advocating the yet to be born ‘son-of-No2EU’.

An account of what followed, by an observer from the Green Left, accurately conveyed George’s response: ‘Galloway absolutely hammered No2EU in particular for standing against Peter Cranie in the North West… and refused to entertain any talk of coalition with the son of NO2EU.’ In addition to hammering NO2EU for effectively letting the BNP in (‘if the left had united it would have been Peter Cranie on Question Time not Nick Griffin’) he was scathing about the exaggeration being peddled about son-of-NO2EU. Contrary to claims by Ian Donovan, there were not ‘three national unions’ supporting this initiative; the reality was that three national union secretaries addressed a meeting in a personal capacity on working class political representation. George predicted the FBU would not support any so-called ‘new coalition’ and ridiculed the idea that the Prison Officers Association were now in the vanguard of building a far-left of Labour alternative, saying this would come as a bit of a surprise to any prisoner, especially those black, Irish or Muslim prisoners who had been on the receiving end of dealings with ‘screws’.

A sharp tone was adopted by both George and Salma towards an increasingly marginal current of opinion in Respect that sees our future as part of a coalition of the far left. The tone reflects the degree of frustration with an argument, just 6 months before a General Election, over backing a coalition with no name, no policies and no electoral credibility.

Nick Wrack at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

Nick Wrack

It also reflects a clear difference of strategy. As both George and Salmaexplained, we are focused on building unity and working with others, but we reject the narrow conception of left unity that gives pride of place to organizations with absolutely no popular support. Respect’s former National Secretary, Nick Wrack, came in for particular criticism, with Salma pointing out the irony of his calls for ‘left unity’ when he was one of those insisting that Respect should stand against the Greens in the North-West European region.

The message was delivered loud and clear: we wish all those who want to join the ‘coalition with no name’ well on their journey, and where we can establish friendly relations with any other progressive party or coalition we will do so, but we have an opportunity to advance the left by getting Respect MPs elected. If we fail, it will not be for the want of trying.

Andrew Murray at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

Andrew Murray

The final session was introduced by Andrew Murray who received a standing ovation for his passionate call for opposition to the war in Afghanistan and for Respect to use its strengths to help Stop the War reconnect with its core support. He was followed by Francisco Dominguez from the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign, who painted a vivid picture of the Bolivarian revolution 10 years on, the threats it faces, and the importance of international solidarity. Finally, Kevin Ovenden outlined exciting new developments in Palestinian solidarity, describing the way that Viva Palestina was fast becoming a global campaign, finding new and significant support in Malaysia among other places, and deepening its productive relationship with the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign.

Delegates vote at the Respect Annual Conference 2009

Delegates vote

There was genuine and sharp debate at this conference. And the outcome was clear. Respect’s leadership is absolutely determined that the influence of the ultra-left will remain marginal. There is no place for the kind of political sectarianism that is indifferent to a Tory victory or bitterly hostile to cooperation with the Green Party. Such views, often articulated by politically irrelevant grouplets of the far left, are an obstacle to the growth of a radical party of the left. The potential for a serious radical and left-wing party will be determined by its ability to speak to the millions who are essentially disillusioned Labour

Respect Annual Conference 2009

Respect Conference

supporters, and its ability to provide convincing alternatives to the politics of war, racism and cuts.
I fully expect the new National Council, on which the more sectarian voices are a shrinking minority, to drive through this perspective more forcefully in the coming year.

A report by Ger Francis


[Videos for this event will be available soon. Picture gallery on the Birmingham Respect facebook group: here]

Additional reports:

Respect Conference – Andy Newman, Socialist Unity (15.11.09)

Respect Conference in Birmingham today – Derek Wall (Green Party), Another World is Possible (14.11.09)

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Public Meeting: Pakistan in Crisis

  Report by Abu Jamal and Adam Yosef

George Galloway MP in Birmingham

George Galloway MP in Birmingham

A public meeting entitled ‘Pakistan in Crisis’, held by Respect at the Birmingham Central Mosque in the Highgate area of the city on Saturday (18th Oct), was attended by over 250 people.

Salma Yaqoob, city councillor for Sparkbrook, set the tone for the meeting by condemning the recent US military operations in Pakistan which have created numerous civilian casualties; and spoke of the hypocrisy of the British media for failing to report these attacks “on a sovereign nation”.

“We care about every single human being, whether they’re in Birmingham, Baghdad or Pakistan. We do not have the double standards of the British government and media,” she said.

She called for a genuine democratic Pakistan that would not tolerate US military attacks on its own people and explained the current crisis in Pakistan could only be resolved by ordinary people struggling for peace, justice and equality.

Salma Yaqoob speaks about Pakistan

Salma Yaqoob speaks about Pakistan

“I want to see a democratic Pakistan, a peaceful Pakistan, free of all corrupt influences. We need a Pakistan without religious intolerance, that’s what most Pakistanis want. They don’t need Western leaders lecturing them on religion.”

George Galloway, Respect’s MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, spoke at length on the recent history of Pakistan and Kashmir, and received a rousing reception upon declaring the “people of Kashmir have every right and dignity to fight for the freedom of their land.”

He briefly focused on “The Hangman” Zia-Ul-Haq (a reference to General Zia’s execution of former PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979), highlighting how Zia became America’s favourite in a line of ‘dictators’. Galloway went on to challenge the corrupt nature of General Pervez Musharraf and how his craven support for US policy in the region had not protected the Pakistani people but exploited them for financial gain.

The outspoken Member of Parliament told a diverse audience that recent bombings in the south Asian state were a direct result of the unstable war in Afghanistan. He also claimed the ‘War on Terror’, which has recently spilled into the country with US bombing strikes frequently targeting South Waziristan, was being allowed due to the complacency of British Pakistani MPs.

Audience at Birmingham Central Mosque

Audience at Birmingham Central Mosque

“I love Pakistan, all my life I have loved it, even before it became two countries,” he said. “We are reminded that there are four Pakistani MPs in Parliament. A fact I nearly forgot as none of them has raised a finger or voice against the US-led attack on Pakistan. They’re just there to be reeled in when their political leaders want to justify an attack on Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Pakistan.”

Galloway also noted the political silence of another MP, Labour’s Roger Godsiff, whose Parliamentary Hall Green seat Salma Yaqoob intends to challenge at the next General Election. His views were echoed by Yaqoob herself, who urged Muslims from the region to increase pressure on Asian councillors or deny them their vote.

“We need to tell these people who come to our homes asking for our votes, and there are over twenty Asian councillors in Birmingham, we need to tell them they will not get our votes unless they do something to help the people of Pakistan,” she explained.

“They [US/UK coalition] haven’t learnt from the past and are taking their war into Pakistan. As people from all backgrounds, and I stand here as a proud British citizen, we cannot allow this to happen in our name.

“We have that special responsibility as British citizens to pressure our government to stop bombing Afghanistan. If Afghanistan hadn’t been bombed, Pakistan would have never been bombed,” she added.

The meeting was primarily attended by members of the Pakistani, Somali and Arab community, many of whom identified with the political climate in Pakistan. Galloway also touched on the crisis in Somalia, reminding the audience their taxes contributed towards the conflict in the African country.

“In Somalia, the country is occupied by Ethiopian armed forces, paid for by you. Perhaps you didn’t realise the British government is supplying and paying for a foreign army to occupy Somalia.

“They’re doing so using your money while children still suffer a famine on both sides.”

He concluded by imploring those in attendance to support Salma Yaqoob’s campaign to become MP for the Birmingham Hall Green constituency, in an effort to highlight, challenge and resolve many of the issues that had been discussed.

George galloway in Birmingham Central Mosque

George galloway in Birmingham Central Mosque

“Can you imagine if Salma Yaqoob was standing in Parliament as an MP. You might not see her in Downing Street but you’d see her in Parliament day after day speaking out against the oppression of the downtrodden people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan. So you have to support and raise funds for Salma’s campaign so she can become the MP for Hall green in Birmingham.”

His appeal was reiterated by fellow speaker and activist Yvonne Ridley.

“There are many reasons to support Respect and for supporting Salma Yaqoob. We need as much help as we can get to continue holding rallies like this and getting Salma Yaqoob into Parliament is going to cost money.

The Birmingham Respect team with George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley

The Birmingham Respect team with George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley

“We don’t have corporate fat cats throwing money towards us and that’s a good thing. Please dig deep and give generously. You have a fantastic candidate in Salma Yaqoob, someone who cares about issues locally, nationally and internationally.”

The gathering was chaired by Councillor Mohammed Ishtiaq. Other speakers included Councillor Naeem Ullah Khan, local activist Richard Hutcher and Pakistani political commentator Choudary Tasadiq Arvi.

In pictures: ‘Pakistan in Crisis’ public meeting

A selection if images from the ‘Crisis in Pakistan’ public meeting, held by Birmingham Respect at the Birmingham Central Mosque on Saturday 18th October, 2008.

For more images, please see the Birmingham Respect facebook group. Thank you.

Behind the veil: the online diary of a British Muslim woman

Na’ima B. Robert is a Muslim author, a wife and mother living in Britain. In the first of her regular articles for Faith Online she discusses the challenge of living the Islamic faith in a secular democracy.

As a Muslim woman living in the embrace of a vibrantly secular, liberal democratic society, you are constantly caught between two very different worlds.

On the one hand, there is your faith, Islam, a religion and way of life revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) over 1400 years ago, a religion that affects the way you think, the way you act, the way you speak, dress and eat. It is the world of worship and sacrifice, of duties and voluntary charity. It is the world of faith.

Then, on the other hand, there is the dunya, the “worldly life”, where you live, work, study, shop, entertain and unwind. It is a world of trends and societal pressures, deadlines and promotions, summer sales and summer holidays. It is, in a nutshell, the world that almost everyone else lives in full-time.

And, interestingly enough, it is one that many non-Muslims are surprised that religious Muslim women inhabit at all. Despite the number of observant Muslim women active in public life in Britain (Respect party vice-chair Salma Yaqoob, editor and OBE Sara Joseph, activist and journalist Yvonne Ridley, novelist and dramatist Leila Aboulela to name but a few), media representations often fail to be anything more than stereotypes with subtle and not-so-subtle messages that Muslim women are oppressed, powerless, ghettoised, uneducated, devoid of ambition, with an unhealthy addiction to black clothes.

That is the only way I can explain the surprised reaction to the findings of a survey of Muslim women carried out by SISTERS Magazine and Ummah Foods. To some it apparently came as a revelation that Muslim women long for their soul mate and shop on the high street, that we too go out to eat and dream of running our own businesses one day.

This surprise struck me as puzzling. Where did people think we got our clothes from, if not shops like Hennes and Next, Monsoon and Zara? Or maybe they thought that, beneath our hijabs, jilbabs and niqabs, we simply wear more of the same: shapeless sack dresses and bloomers, stitched at home by hand.

What of the hijabi fashionistas, the undercover style queens, the ladies-only parties with beaded evening dresses and glitter hair gems? If nothing else, maybe the BBC television show Women in Black has shown audiences that there is indeed life beneath a black abayah. Do people really think that all Muslim women are victims of forced or ‘arranged marriages’ who live lives of dutiful obedience and loveless servitude with men who treat them like slaves?

How surprised people would be to learn of the ‘halal romance’, the deep love and affection felt by many Muslim couples, the years of companionship and support and, of course, numerous babies, that accompany many Muslim marriages. And, of course, even fewer know about the liberal attitude to marital intimacy that is to be found in the books of hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. But that is another story…

In essence, the Muslim woman in the UK is constantly negotiating the space between two worlds: Islam and the ‘dunya’; East and West, the past and the future, her individual needs and ambitions and the needs and demands of the wider community.

It is tricky sometimes, straddling the divide, and it requires a great deal of balance, patience and compromise. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. By choosing to practise Islam in the UK, this is what we have chosen: to have a foot in both camps and, hopefully, experience the best of both worlds, whatever those worlds may be.

Copyright: Na’ima B.Robert

Na’ima B. Robert is the editor of SISTERS magazine for Muslim women, and the author of From My Sisters’ Lips; From Somalia with Love; The Swirling Hijab; My Around the World Scrapbook

Original Source: The Times (25/07/07)