Saturday, 28 February 2009

Mr Smith goes to SIAC ( The Special Immigration Appeals Commission)

After reading so much about the Special Immigration Appeals Commission procedure, Control Orders, Detentions, Bail Revocations, Secret Evidence and Closed Sessions, a good friend of mine advised me that it was possible to attend in person. Having had a holiday from work, I decided to experience these myself from the public gallery so was present for the hearing on the 27th February for five detainees, U, Z, BB, Y and VV. Unfortunately due to restrictions of the court and allegedly their protection I cannot reveal their names.

For the uninitiated, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, or SIAC, was established in order to handle cases where the secretary of state herself wishes to see individuals deported on the basis of national security or public interest. These courts are heard in a small room off Chancery Lane, and anyone may attend them whenever the court is in session.

So what happens? Allow me to share my own experiences. I entered the building and had gone through the normal security procedures, no more intrusive than you would expect at an airport. This involved emptying ones pockets and walking through a scanner. After being waived on, a security guard gruffly told me “second floor”, however after responding in perfect English that I was looking for the SIAC court he realised I was not here for my own hearing and instead I made my way to the basement.

I was there fairly early, so the court was closed but after a period of ten minutes myself and four others were given entry to the court, and I made my way towards the back of the gallery following the crowd. The court is a modern one, though fairly cramped, and to the courts credit I must say the chairs were comfortable.

About fifteen minutes after this, a number of solicitors and barristers made their way into the courtroom. The court procedure already seemed fairly informal, with no silks or wigs in sight. It was shortly later that I realised I had made my first faux pas. A gentlemen asked me whether I was with the secretary of states department, and noting the disgust on my face asked me to move to the other side of the gallery. I did so, but at the expense of a good seat, the other side being almost full with supporters. I would estimate approximately 15 supporters had made the journey, some as far as Brighton. I was disappointed with the lack of showing from the muslim community however ( as far as I could ascertain I was the only muslim male there ) however there were plenty of muslim women. I was extremely pleased to see how much support these men have outside the community. It showed to me that this issue is not one that affects just muslims, but instead one that affects a lot of people who are concerned at the direction that this country’s’ laws and freedoms are heading.

Shortly afterwards, the “trial” began. At the “All rise”, I stayed seated, not wishing to show the courts the authority they so dearly would love to have. I do believe though my silent protest was obscured by the large public gallery, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts. There was firstly the matter of the detainees. One was present in the courtroom, behind a Plexiglas screen with slits in it so that he could hear the proceedings, and was flanked to the right of him with agents from the UK Border Agency, dressed in full regalia. It was not quite “Silence of the Lambs”, but it was close enough. I can only imagine how the couple of journalists present would perceive this man, and how much they would look behind the glass and see the man behind it. For the majority of the trial, he stayed studious and quiet, concentrating intently on the proceedings.

The debate was around the four other detainees, who had been taken in the night without their solicitors being contacted until much later. In a couple of the cases, they had been taken to prison after being told the van would be taking them home following a trial yesterday. They were now in different prisons, three in Belmarsh with one in Wood Hill. The Judge explained the court would have difficulty hearing their cases in person, so would videolink be acceptable. It was eventually agreed to.

So, after this was completed a time was given of 12-2 for the video linkups. This made me concerned that I would miss Friday prayers, however thankfully it transpired the proceedings were wrapped up early. Before that time (11am), a “closed session” took place. This is where everyone except for the judge and elements from the Home Office are asked to leave the courtroom. With the door firmly locked, the black box of “secret evidence” was discussed. The Detainee, Solicitor and Barrister are not permitted to hear this evidence. After ½ an hour of this, we were called back into the courtroom.

By this time, the video linkup had arrived and due to defence solicitors wishing to consult with their clients, I was asked to leave the courtroom having not been “ vetted for visiting.” Though disappointed not to hear the men speak, I do understand their reasons for doing so.

I went to make a phone call, returning to a somewhat more elated crowd. Four of the men (all except for “U”) had been ordered by the judge to be returned to their homes. “U” was then given the verdict of having his bail revoked and he was to be returned to prison. After some more complex legal arguments regarding Judicial Reviews and more alleged breaches of the Human Rights Act by the Home Secretary than there are Detainees, Mr Mitting the trial judge issued his judgement explaining his decision. There were no real details to be gleamed, other than “on the basis of the closed evidence, I revoke the bail of U”. This was in essence the commentary, cloaked in legalese.

As the judgement was being read, on the video linkup a sad scene was evolving. Of the three men on the screen, two were given the all-clear to go home whilst Detainee U would be staying. The men all seemed resigned to their respective fates, and as a testimony to the character and virtues of Detainee U he was able to give smiles and laughs to the two who would be going ( VV and Y ), and they shared hugs and salutations before being led out to the left, leaving the solitary figure of U alone. U’s face displayed a look of acceptance, realising that yet again he had been detained without hearing any of the closed evidence against him. I would think that years of these sorts of events have made him harden, and he had already prepared himself mentally to abandon hope ; it has a habit of turning to despair when you hope too much. I would like to see the Home Secretary in court one day herself, to see the damage she is doing to real people with feelings, just like you and me, rather than meeting with her spin doctors to decide upon vote-winning strategies for an increasingly right-wing British public.

It was on this note that I left the courtroom and made my way out into the world of an oblivious population, saddened that the black arts of the SIAC would again go unreported and the latent british public (including the majority of muslims in this country it seems) would again ignore one of the most dangerous assaults on rights and freedoms in the modern age.

* I would urge everyone to send a note of support to Detainee U whom I believe is currently in Belmarsh Prison. You can also send letters of support for those on control orders via the mens solicitors.

Settlers and Supermarkets

As promised, I elected to research for myself the extent of Israel-supporting companies and products on the high streets that we can carry out the small action of boycotting. As I said earlier, this should be a targeted campaign aimed not only at not boycotting the products in silence, but also ensuring that we tell the companies involved that we are boycotting their products coupled with making awareness within the wider communities that we are all a part of around the world. Today it is the turn of the supermarkets.

As I am from the United Kingdom, I have focussed upon the supermarkets present in this country. However, if someone wishes to add to this article in the future regarding other supermarket chains in different parts of the world, please let me know and I will add them to the list provided evidence is sent with the request.

In order to understand the supermarkets complicity with the Israeli occupation, we must first understand the nature of the suppliers. A great deal of fruit and vegetables, particularly Peppers and dates, is supplied from the so-called “occupied territories” and we may differ as to what extent Israel is occupying the land of Palestine. I take the view that the entire appropriation of land since 1948 is illegal, however some may hold the view that any land post-1967 is occupied. Either way, the same rules apply as most of the products are manufactured within settlements in the West Bank.

Now, as for the reality of these settlements, they have to be read to be believed. The first is the random violence they dish out upon the muslims (and Christians for that matter) of Palestine, knowing that they have state support. A Christian peacemaker team gave the following account on 20th November 2008 in Havat Ma’on :-
“Fifteen masked Israeli settlers from the illegal outpost of Havat Ma'on attacked three Palestinian shepherds who were grazing their flocks in a valley south of the outpost, and Christian peacemakers who were with them. The settlers came running down from a ridge above the shepherds, hurling rocks. The shepherds were able to get their flocks away before the rocks injured them.During the incident, the settlers were able to steal two of the shepherds' donkeys. The settlers killed one donkey with a knife wound in the chest area. They slashed another across the throat, but the donkey survived.”

A quick google search will reveal hundreds of such incidents, in which Settlers seemingly for sport seem to hunt Palestinians who are trying to survive on meagre resources.

They are also diverting much needed water from Palestinian communities in order to fund their excessive lifestyles. One report in 2007 identified that a pipe supplying a well in a Palestinian village was cut, with the water being used to fill a swimming pool for one settler. As each illegal settlement is made, the first actions are to cut the supply for Palestinian villages ( for example, 4000 homes were left without water after one settlement in 2006 ), and then eventually the Palestinians negotiate with the Israeli state as intermediary in order to get their own water back.

There is also the issue of destroying crops and engaging in a “Scorched-earth” policy. They cut olive trees and burn them in order to claim the land is disused, which of course the Israeli courts provide support to substantiate the claims. They often will build roads through olive farms, claiming that one side of the road is theres and the other is the Palestinians.

It is in this background that settlement products are making their way to british high streets in packages labelled “Palestine”, and though we acknowledge the Israelis for affirming that settlement land is Palestinian land, it gives the false impression that these goods are produced by Palestinians. They are made to profit Israeli farmers with water that has been stolen from Palestinians, on land that has been occupied against Palestinians and by individuals that harass and assault Palestinians. The label is an insult to the Palestinian people, just one more brick in the wall of denial and heartbreak that they have been experiencing since 1948.

So, the supermarkets that are involved in this through their greed without morals are Sainsburys, Tescos, Marks and Spencers and Waitrose. They are all supplied by settlement farmers with dates, peppers, herbs and other items. The suppliers are Hadiklaim and Arava. Both of these Israeli companies are complicit in the exploitation and appropriation of Palestinian crops. This was discovered by a report commissioned for the “Sir Joseph Hotung Programme” within the School of Oriental and African Studies.

So what can we do about it? The hardline approach is to boycott the entire supermarkets. With the exception of Marks and Spencers whom have many more stains against their cloth, I do not believe this is feasible nor practical. Instead we should boycott those products from the stores that are labelled “Israel” OR “Palestine”. We should write to these supermarkets, outlining our objections to these goods being supplied within the stores. We should also educate others about the realities of settler-produced goods and the ethics involved in eating peppers provided through deceit and stolen resources.

This I believe should have an effect. Supermarkets are motivated by profits being a capitalist industry, and they will respond in these troubled times if even 10% of their consumers defect to purchasing products from more ethical suppliers. Israeli goods rotting unsold on shelves will soon force these companies to make the right business decision and should see the restoration of fruit and vegetables that are not tainted by the brush of illegal occupation.

I will be writing a sample letter to send out in the next few days, if anyone has further information on any of the details above or would like references, please do get in touch.

A Place Called Gaza - Part 6

Previous Installments can be read here :-

In the last instalment, we studied the problems of Egypt and its occupation with the French. In this instalment, we will look at how the political circumstances of that period led to the rise of Muhammad Ali Pasha and the occupation of Gaza by this Egyptian faction.

Muhammad Ali Pasha was an army officer within the Ottoman Empire, and was a member of the battalion that was sent to retake Egypt from the French. When this was successful, and no obvious Ottoman-friendly officer available to hold the seat of governor, he put himself forward to occupy this position which was recognized by the Empire. He managed to hold this position through a Machiavellian approach of forming strong alliances with religious leaders and powerful village chiefs, while ruthlessly crushing those who would think of overthrowing him. This included the extermination of the mamluk power structure through inviting all their chieftains to a banquet to celebrate the appointment of his son as head of an army formed to battle the rebellion of Imam Abdul-Wahab in the Hijaz. When these people arrived at the banquet, Muhammad Alis’ forces massacred them, in what is known as the “Massacre of the Citadel”. After this, he dragged the body of one of them through Cairo to demonstrate what happens to those who seek power over him.

Once he held power, he began to be increasingly important to the Ottomans. They used him in many famous campaigns, such as the war against the Arab Rebellion in 1818, and many of his campaigns were at his own instigation, such as that of the Sudan in 1821.

With power however came greed. He wanted to be assured that his progeny could be sure of inheriting an Empire, and as such begun to act like an Empire. He began to see the Ottomans as a rival power rather than one in which he could work in Harmony. He also believed that he was too powerful to fail in his ambitions, and begun to think of aggressively taking the Levant , an area emcompassing modern day Palestine. Overtures were made, identifying that the natural border was not the Suez Estuary, but instead the Taurus Mountains.

After a war of words erupted between a governor of the Ottomans in Palestine, Abdullah, and Mohammad Ali. Civillians fearing a war fled to Southern Palestine and Gaza from Egypt, to which Abdullah refused to return the individuals. Muhammad Ali then initiated a war, threatening that he would return both the civilians and Abdullah himself to Egypt.

His son, Ibrahim Pasha, set out for Palestine accompanied by many warships and other heavy military. Upon arriving in Gaza, the people did not put up any resistance. This pattern continued all the way to Haifa, and after some battles had managed to open up the road to Istanbul and thereby control it, through their occupation of Anatolia.

Though one could argue that Muhammad Ali’s objectives were aggressive in nature, in some ways they initiated reform that Europe objected to, hence their interference. His major policies were those of economy, where he initiatied heavy industry in Egypt and Palestine such as Cotton industries, which were state monopolies. This drastically affected the market for British Cotton which at that point was obtained from India. With these benefits however were many unsavoury aspects of his rule. Conscription was enforced for every male in the region, and even disabled individuals were forced to fight in the rear ranks. Taxes were heavy and though allowances were given in difficult times, on the whole taxes were far higher than those under the Ottomans.

The Ottoman Empire reacted to his aggressive military manoeuvres and recognised Muhammad Alis wars against the Palestinian Wali for what it was : A rebellion. They removed the titles bestowed upon Muhammad Ali and all his officers by the Ottomans, as well as stripping them from their posts.

Muhammad Ali responded by ordering the Clerics of Al-Azhar ( showing the concept of “government Scholars” is not that new a phenomenon ) to declare the Sultan of the Ottomans a disbeliever guilty of apostacy, which they duly did, as well as issuing a call for jihad against the Ottoman Empire.

Sadly, at this point” the disbelieving forces of France, Russia and Great Britain began to pressure the two forces to agree to a ceasefire in the interests of “peace”. This in hindsight was the beginning of European powers to exert their influence and change the dynamics of the middle east and thereby Islam as a ruling system. The two warring sides signed the treaty of Ktahya ( the Ktahya Accord ) in 1833. This awarded control of Egypt, the Hijaz and Crete to Muhammad Ali.

Later on, the European countries exploited this war and the relative weaknesses of the Ottomans and Muhammad Ali Pashas Kingdom through infighting. They demanded that any aggression between either side must be given permission first by the European powers, these being Prussia, Russia, France and Britain. Britain formed a blockade, which could be said to be a precursor to the so-called peacekeepers we see in conflict zones today, near Beirut. This lasted for some years, the European powers forcing the two countries to abandon the monopolies on trade in both of their Kingdoms, meaning that the markets were flooded with cheaper European goods. At the same time, Gaza was met with a huge outbreak of the Bubonic Plague, decimating its populating and damaging its trade significantly.

Eventually, the European powers wanted a permanent peace, fearing that the skirmishes continuning between the Ottomans and the Pasha dynasty would cause trade problems. They forced Muhammad Ali to withdraw to Egypt and Acre, and gave him 10 days to accept. During these Ten Days, the Ottomans and Britain attacked Palestine, resulting in a civilian revolt against Egypt. Muhammad Ali had to give up this territory, reluctantly pulling out of Gaza and returning to Egypt in 1841, with Gaza being returned to the Ottomans. Muhammad Ali eventually died in 1849, after being awarded the right of hereditary rule over his Kingdom which covered Sudan and Egypt, and with his title of Ottoman Viceroy being restored. Egypt however was a broken state after being forced to abandon its trade tariffs and import duties, with National debt being 80 Million Francs. He remains buried in the courtyard of Muhammad Ali Mosque.

This concludes Part 6, in Part 7 we will study the deteriorating relationship between the Ottomans and Britain.

Friday, 20 February 2009

What is it like being Muslim in the UK?

I realise that over the last few posts, I’ve been covering a lot about Egypt specifically, together with the muslim-majority countries, and some people have raised some comments about how I am perhaps too harsh. I thought it might be interesting for those overseas in these countries in particular to understand a little bit about what it means to be muslim in the United Kingdom (where I live ) as well as what life is like for the muslims generally in the west.

The first item I would like to cover is the state of the muslims in this country. In many respects, they are sadly as nationalist as I see in those from other countries. There is a big drive from many muslim groups in this country to re-affirm the fact that they are “British muslims”, though none of them elaborate to any extent what that exactly means.

The Government, on the other hand, are very clear about what they mean within those circles. They want the muslims in this country to adopt the western way of life, and are often using muslim persons of so-called standing such as Baroness Warsi, Shahid Malik, Lord Nazir Ahmed ( yes, he really calls himself Lord Nazir ) and others in order to condemn the communities. Just yesterday, Warsi was making comments that polygamy should not be allowed in this country. Shahid Malik has voted strongly during his first term as an MP for ID Cards, 90 Days Detention without Trial for terrorism suspects , and opposed an investigation into the Iraq war. There are continuous calls and pressure applied by these individuals to make muslims within the United Kingdom follow the country in all issues, even if it is in conflict with their beliefs.

There is also the law, slowly being adapted to cater for those who do not want to capitulate to this situation. We are constantly made to feel, as a community, that our presence in this country is conditional and it can be revoked at any time. This would explain the legislation directed towards the community such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000 to target “islamists”, thinktanks established to look at “Islamism”, directions given to university lecturers to monitor “islamists”, and court rulings ordering the deportation of “islamists”. Again, no one has clarified what an “Islamist” is, but the closest definition I can deduce is one who believes in Islam and Allah(swt) as a complete way of life, and is not interested in sacrificing this belief for power or monetary reward. As a result there are over 170 muslims incarcerated within british prisons in relation to offences under the community-specific legislation passed.

I have mentioned the “community” a few times, so let me once again elaborate. In my experience, there is no “community” as such, unless there are knighthoods or OBE’s to be awarded in which case community leaders suddenly appear out of the woodwork. Most of the time, these community leaders are not seen unless it is to provide rent-a-quotes. The community is mainly concerned with how it is perceived by the non-muslim community, rather than supporting the existing muslim community. This is why you will see many interfaith gatherings and even police stations within Masjids, but hardly any free legal surgeries or youth programs.

The role of the community, particularly if you are under 30 years of age, is instead filled by Islamic groups. These groups are often fighting with each other, and have an almost cultish following between them and extreme partisanship. Rarely is what unites us championed, but instead division is promoted. If one was to imagine rival mafia families in 1930s Chicago, this is perhaps the same kind of co-operative atmosphere present certainly in the UK ( one just has to read discussion boards to see this).

There is a feeling that through living here, one adopts the capitalist way of life as their own. Suddenly you find yourself less willing to support brothers and sisters in a worse situation than you ( Palestine excepted, which almost every muslim attempts a small action towards in the UK, whilst Kashmir, Somalia, Burma, Thailand, Algeria, Tunisia are not mentioned ), and you also find yourself being reluctant in charity, in dawah, in ritual worship (Ramadan excepted ) and in seeking Islamic knowledge. I say this because I hold my hand up and say I am a guilty party in this respect. I realise that as I get older, the more I take Allahs(swt) blessings for granted.

Work is a big part of life in this country, and it dominates conversations even in one’s spare time. Work is a constant pressure not because of the difficulty, but more because of the environment. Every day you will challenge your own beliefs, as so much of the work social life revolves around alcohol. To refuse to drink is to refuse a promotion in many workplaces. To be seen discussing politics or religion is a big “no-no” in most environments. Jummah prayers are a constant challenge to pray and return to work within your assigned break. Though some environments are different, most I have experienced tend to be this reality.

However, there are benefits available here that I do feel thankful that I am a part of. The first is that you can never starve in this country, as the state has an obligation to help you, even when out of work. How different to India or Pakistan, where 75% of the population live on less than 2$ per day. The second is healthcare, available to all and yet denied to so many others throughout the rest of the world. I can travel in a car throughout different cities, and never once have to pay a bribe, unlike most of West Africa. There are large numbers of practising muslims from all over the world, unlike perhaps Indonesia or Malaysia where there is a much lower percentage of muslim immigrants ( though massive indigenous muslim populations). I have muslim friends from Australia, Iraq, Egypt, Canada, Pakistan and India in my small friends circle, and I am truly thankful for that, because I don’t think there can be many other places that have such a cosmopolitan atmosphere ( Hajj apart).

Inshallah I pray that people have found it interesting to read this brief summary about life for muslims in the UK, and will perhaps see that each country has its own problems and benefits, and that until we live according to Islam and its teachings, we will continue to face difficulties as an Ummah wherever we live.

Please do forward me any article you have written about your part of the world, as I am always interested in the various challenges that muslims face without Islam being established!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A Place called Gaza, part 5

The Ottoman rule of Gaza continued unabatedly throughout the 1600s and 1700s,
leading to steady increase in trade and commerce into Gaza, and making it an extremely important city and region of learning and finance. As the years rolled on, and sea transports became more effective, Gaza then began to decline as the route from Egypt to Syria by road was viewed as harsh and a poor second to sea travel via the Mediterranean. Gaza naturally suffered for this, however important trading wares were still delivered via the ports and the occasional land caravans. Another factor in the decline of roads, apart from journey time, was the prevalence of criminal bedioun tribes, who sought to exploit money and goods from the travelling caravans. Piracy was not as big a problem in the immediate region, certainly when compared to the activities of highway robbers.

As Gaza declined, political intrigues begun to dominate the Ottoman Empire, especially in relation to the French Empire and an impetuous general, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon advocated in 1797 to engage in an attempted capture of Egypt and the Levant, so as to harm British trade interests in India. Britain at that time were trading with the Ottoman Empire through reselling goods sourced in India to the Ottomans via the Mediterrenean, in which revenues were then directed towards other imperialist activities such as the slave trade. Napoleons concept was to make the Mediterrenean, the Levant and North Africa secure so that no ships from Britain may sail there, thereby depleting their economy whilst simultenously bolstering that of France.

Napoleon landed in Alexandria and secured a memorable victory against Mamluk governors in which over 6,000 egyptian cavalry and infantry died. However, whilst Napoleon was securing important land victories, the ships that had sailed to carry the troops were destroyed by the British in a port. At the news of this the Ottomans led by Selim III immediately sent large battalions, feeling that Napoleon was finished. This was not strictly correct, as though the ships which had carried Napoleon were no longer there, they had secured the lands of Egypt successfully, a few minor rebellions excepted.

Whilst in Egypt, Napoleon had tried unsuccessfully to paint himself as a liberator, not a conqueror. He ensured that he made favourable statements about Islam in the press and at public speeches, which some na├»ve muslims today point towards as evidence of Napoleons alleged “conversion”. To see Napoleons aims, one only has to study the experience, in which he made various claims such as “all my soldiers will convert” in order to curry favour with the Egyptians. Perhaps the closest example is that of the invasion of Iraq, in which alien customs, traditions and others cloaked in islam have been thrust on the Iraqi people. One story of Napoleon in Egypt is his organising of a “grand ball” to bring muslims and French together. This plan was abandoned once no single muslim woman turned up to the ball.

In the meantime, the armies of the Ottomans were on their way. Napoleon caught wind of this, and elected to try and meet them in Syria, through which he needed to land at Gaza and other key points on the Palestine coast. Napoleons attempts failed however, and as he was forced into retreat he killed muslim prisoners as well as any injured from his own party so as not to slow progress.

Napoleon later fled from Egypt, leaving his troops behind. This is in such stark contrast to the early muslim generals such as Khalid ibn Walid(ra) and Usama ibn Zaid (ra), whom always led from the front. They had arranged a deal with the British and the Mamluk Ottomans (who at this point had formed an alliance ) in order to arrange a peaceful retreat, but this was reneged upon.

The French general successfully repelled the forces in 1800, however a young religious student at Al-Azhar by the name of Sulaiman Al-Halabi assassinated him by disguising as a beggar. Ironically it is reported that he carried out this act in order to alleviate his fathers poverty, for which the Ottomans agreed to forgive his father his debts. Al-Halabi was impaled and the body sent back to France as a warning to others.

Egypt after losing the French general was a power vacuum, with the French rule becoming increasingly untenable. France agreed a surrender, and all French personnel were evacuated by British ships, together with numerous treasures looted from the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings.

Though this article has mainly focussed on Egypt, it is important to understand the background to the conquering of Gaza by a rebel batallian of the Ottoman Empire led by Muhammad Ali Pasha in 1832, together with the political circumstances. This will be evaluated in the next article.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Starbucks and the War on Terror

Starbucks Coffee is ubiquitous on the high streets of most towns all over the world. They are also extremely active within most middle eastern and asian countries, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Indonesia, Malaysia and many other muslim majority countries.

This presence makes it all the more confusing when we receive emails and messages to support a boycott of Starbucks stores in the west, when the “muslim” countries are seemingly opening these stores at speed when others in the west are being forced to close through lack of business. I can only assume that, like myself, they were perhaps previously unaware of the extent of Starbucks coffees’ involvement in the “War on Terror”. Though the text messages we have received indicate a support of Zionism, which may have some truth in it, the verifiable facts are in fact a lot more concerning for any muslim.

I first heard about Starbucks briefly last year, when I read a book called “Bad Men” by Clive Stafford Smith, a human rights lawyer working to provide legal representation to those in Guantanamo Bay.( I urge anyone who has not done so already to read this book by the way, in order to understand the full horrors of the Bush legacy ). In it, he describes a visit to Guantanamo Bay that he undertook, and one item that caught my eye is a Starbucks being present on the Naval Base / Internment camp. This made me think, but in my own shallowness and desire for Frapucinnos, I ignored these early warning signs.

Then Gaza happened. Many emails came to my attention, saying such things as “Starbucks is giving Saturdays profits to Israel”, “Every coffee sold Starbucks is donating 10p” or “Drinking Starbucks is like drinking the blood of a palestinian child”. I decided to investigate these allegations for myself over the weekend, and so I can share my investigations with you.

Starbucks deny that they support Israel in terms of donations. You can see this on their website. However, they do not deny that their CEO, Howard Schultz, is an active Zionist. Inminds has a copy of an award (that has since been taken from their site ) which presented him with a “Israel 50th Anniversary Tribute Award” by Aish Hatora (fire of the Torah). This group financed an anti-islamic documentary that was posted out for free in key “swing states” in the United States in the recent US election ( but that’s another story). They are a pro-zionist organisation, encouraging the apartheid policy actively in Palestine at the moment.

Now, Starbucks could well argue ( as they have said on their site ), that the actions of its CEO does not reflect the organisation. We can then ask them why they sponsored a “Bowl4Israel” event (twice) in which monies raised went towards the Israeli Defence Forces benevolence fund. This organisation in a twisted irony produced posters stating that Palestinians are baby-killers.

What disturbs me most of all is their unquestioning support for the US Army and armed forces, who are at present occupying at least two countries (compared to Israels one ) and has killed over 100,000 muslim civilians in the past 5 years alone ( compared to Israels 3,000). In their support of the US armed forces, particularly the “war on terror”, Starbucks have made no contrasting statements and no attempts to hide their involvement ( unlike their Zionist-related activities). They are PROUD of their involvement, as their own statements say :-

“Starbucks has the deepest respect and admiration for U.S. military personnel. We are extremely grateful to the men and women who serve stateside or overseas. We sincerely appreciate that they are willing to risk their lives to protect Americans and our values of freedom and democracy… our partners in our Atascadero, California store sent their weekly mark out coffee to troops in Afghanistan so they are able to enjoy a little piece of home. Our customer relations department in Seattle donated hundreds of pounds of coffee to the sailors in the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group.”

It is also disturbing to read that Starbucks Coffee is being used in Military Interrogations as an incentive ( replacing the stereotypical “fancy a smoke?” ) in Guantanamo Bay, as a break from waterboarding, stress positions and torture.

Now, one has to ask : If I, a humble part-time activist, is able to uncover these things, then why are the muslim countries presumably unaware of these activities? Why would Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Malaysia and others grant licences to this company, knowing it is indirectly involved all the atrocities and torture of the US Military, through providing them free and subsidised coffee in between their daily activities of torture, rape and murder?

I don’t think there can be any doubt in Starbucks support for anti-muslim activities, and I am now committed to an “anti-frappucino” rule! If we all commit to these boycott, and in particular advise the inhabitants of the muslim countries ( which in some cases are nearly 100% muslim) to do the same, I am sure we will see either Starbucks alter its policy or else disinvest from the Middle east and muslim world.

I intend to write a letter to Starbucks advising them why I am ceasing to drink their coffee, and I will also write to their trading partners making them aware that I am disappointed with their association with Starbucks. These trading partners are :-

Apple, Borders, Hilton Group, Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Hotels, PepsiCo, Radisson SAS, Safeways, Starwood Hotel Group and T-Mobile.

If anyone would like references to substantiate this article, please email me. Also, if anyone would like a sample letter to send to starbucks, please do contact myself as well.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Place Called Gaza - Part Four

Gaza was now under Uthmani, or Ottoman Rule, and subjected to stability that it had not experienced for some time. This is after the rebellion was quelled, which we saw in Part 3. Since that point, Gaza became an extremely profitable and burgeoning trading town, and a great deal of this reputation and resurgence was linked to the resurgence and benevolence of one of Islam’s greatest rulers of the Ottoman period, Sulaiman I ( or Sulaiman “the Magnificient”).

He was Selim the First’s son and successor, and he would go on to achieve incredible victories throughout the muslim world, as well as conquering new territory from those whom had previously been hostile. He was known as Kanuni, or “The Lawgiver”. This may seem a strange title considering that the Shariah is the law that all muslims follow and this law was given by Allah(swt). However, we must analyse the realities of this to fully understand the title.

Within Shariah, there are certain realities that come into being that have previously not been experienced, owing to either technology or political situations. In this circumstance, a concept known as “ijtihad” is permitted, which relies upon using the existing laws in order to extrapolate a new reality based upon the Islamic law. For example, subjects which would appear now are items such as “Is it permissible to pray Jummah via a tape recording”, or “Is IVF permissible for a muslim”. These are new realities that were not around at the prophets(saw) time, but the foundations to decide upon the permissibility or ruling can be found within the accepted sources of Islamic Law, e.g. The Quran, the Sunnah, the Companions (ra). What Sulaiman was responsible for was appointing Judges who could re-open these doors of Ijtihad and to provide justice within the framework of the Islamic Law. He was also responsible for coding these laws, so that a manual could be provided for judges in an easily referenced form. (This system, incidentally, was later adopted by European systems, including France).

He rigidly adhered to these principles of Ijtihad and Islamic rule, ensuring that any provinces which in the past had begun to preach innovation and misguidance were subdued and made to adopt the Ottoman codes.

One of his first acts was after the rebellion within Syria and Gaza to replace these individuals of the Mamluk dynasty with new Ottoman-influenced governors. He enforced the ottoman code throughout the province, and implemented direct or “home rule”, whereas the previous system by the Mamluks had simply been to exact a tribute. Inspectors for the state were sent to all provinces under ottoman control to evaluate and quantify the provinces adherence to the Ottoman code.

Through this micro-management, he was able to inject the correct amount of resources to enable rejuvenation, as well as to increase spending on infrastructure when it was required. This involved investing in roads, Waterways, a social services program, and in the case of Palestine led to restoring significant landmarks such as the Wall of Jerusalem.

Gaza was made the administrative capital of the province. This meant that trade was re-established between the province, whereas in the years of turmoil it had previously been bypassed. Commodities included Textiles, Silk and sugar from Egypt, Wool and fur from Syria, as well as the establishment of pilgrim markets for those to buy and sell whilst on the way to Hajj. These pilgrims markets were extremely popular, as well as an “Indian” market. The array of goods was astounding, particularly as Gaza had been nearly derelict a mere few years beforehand. Camels, Goat, Horses, Cheese, Yoghurt, Wheat, Barley, Melon, Aubergine and many other goods were instantly available, to which Gaza benefited immediately.

Gaza, through its abundance of raw materials, later led to entrepreneurial ventures, and heavy infrastructure was established in the district. These included flour mills, Dye-houses, Olive presses, and many others. The impact upon Gaza can be seen through the analysis of taxation revenues. Whereas at the start of Sulaimans reign the revenues were 18,000 Acke (the unit of currency), these almost quadrupled in forty years to 63,000 Acke.

The area also became quickly populated, as individuals from around the muslim world sought their fortunes in Gaza. There were just under 1000 males in the town during 1519, yet 30 years later this population had more than doubled to almost 2,500. If we assume that each taxpaying household consisted of four people ( though it may well be higher than this ), this meant that Gaza town had a population of approximately 12,000 people by 1548.

Significantly, of this population the urban majority were muslims. 2000 identified themselves as muslim, from a recorded population of 2,477. This statistic does not included students from the Islamic universities, schools, and academies, nor does it include those soldiers of the Ottoman empire stationed there. The Christian population numbered approximately 280, whilst jews made up 150 persons. This of course makes a fallacy of the claim that Gaza has always been “jewish” land ( as the Zionists frequently emphasise), as this would mean that jews made up 6% of the population. To put this in perspective, this is approximately the percentage of muslims residing in the United Kingdom today, and less that of the muslims of France. The Jews have no more claim to the land from a population perspective than the muslims of the UK have a claim that the United Kingdom has always been muslim. It also proves that muslims resided in this land, as a majority, for significant periods of time.

Perhaps of most interest was the implementation of correct and just Islamic law to the province. A Qadi (or judge) was established, who was meant to be impartial and prevent corruption and exploitation. Though in later years this became nothing more than paper justice, at the time of Sulaiman this was an extremely just system. The Qadi would hear cases from all persons, including non-muslims. Part of the role was to inspect the markets to ensure that no cheating was taking place, as well as publishing a list of “official” prices of goods sold. Though the Ottomans were Hanafi, the Qadi had deputies who could decide upon the relevant school of thought for the area. This impartiality no doubt contributed significantly to sulaiman being known as “the magnificient”, as he asserted rights that citizens had under Islam but which had been neglected for many years in the province.

Gaza continued to be an important trading sector during Sulaimans reign and afterwards, until another period of decline entered in the 17th century. This period we will study in Part 5.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Intelligent Boycotting

We often receive excitable texts and emails when Israel commit yet another aggression on the muslims of Palestine. These texts often contain such statements as “Mcdonalds to donate every Saturdays profits to Israel”, or “Drinking Coke is like drinking the blood of a Palestinian child.” However, these statements are purely emotional, and through studying them we can see that the muslim ummah is being used for capitalist ends by rival companies. A boycott is a very effective tactic, similar to a strike action on produce, and through sustained, intelligent boycotting and disinvestment results can be achieved.

This is not the same as emotional, reactionary boycotting. This type of “boycotting” serves little value, though intentions are sincere, because they are not based on fact and only rise and fall with the emotions if they prove to be correct.

For example, to claim that McDonalds will donate its profits every Saturday morning, as one text informed me, is just not true. We can prove this by examining the franchise structure of McDonalds, in which these are co-ordinated all over the world through individuals who pay a “preferred supplier” fee and as such take the profits for themselves. For McDonalds to be donating the profits every Saturday, this would mean that every single franchiser in the whole of the world would be contractually obliged to do this. This is simply not possible logistically.

For the other quote, regarding Coca-Cola, this again is not true. Drinking Coca-Cola may well be bad for you, but it cannot be equated to “drinking the blood of a Palestinian child”. This quote is originally sourced from Iran, who at the same time as this quote were promoting a rival coca-cola product. Therefore, this quote could quite reasonably be assumed to be a business decision by the Iranian Government to support their own product and undermine Coca-Colas market share. It is interesting as a sidenote to point out that Coca-Cola would not invest in Israel until the 1960s, as they feared an arab-wide boycott. Only when it made sound business sense did Coca-cola agree to distribution channels in Israel.

However, I am not for one moment saying that McDonalds and Coca Cola are friends of the Palestinians and the muslims, far from it. They DO invest in Israel, though this is clearly a business decision. They are capitalists, and believe in profit at all costs : that is part of the capitalist / free-market doctrine. What is needed is to encourage disinvestment through an articulate and targeted boycott, so that to continue to invest in Israel would no longer make financial sense.

So how to we do this? The first aspect I would illustrate is that many muslims whilst engaging in boycotts of these products were not targeting their efforts. I believe that a sustained campaign against one or two companies at a time would be far more effective than an emotional reaction to every single text or email we receive. By a sustained campaign, this would involve the following :-

1.Letters to the company, explaining why you are not interested in their product, why their support of Israel is misplaced, and explaining how you will be spreading this message of their support for Israel to your friends and relatives.

2.Prepare articles for circulation both within muslim and non-muslim circles, which can then be publicised online and offline.

3.Contact suppliers and customers of the company, advising them that the company concerned are engaged in supporting Israeli actions. Advise these suppliers and companies that you will be encouraging muslims and non-muslims not to trade with that firm whilst they continue to maintain the relationship between the Israeli-supporting customer/supplier.

4.Contact press and media, preparing accurate researched information regarding the companies anti-muslim actions. Ensure that these are well-documented and as objective as possible.

5.Finally, DO commit to not buying the product under any circumstances.

It is hoped that through these actions, it becomes a PR disaster and thereby creating a financial loss for the companies involved. Only when it costs them more money to continue to support Israeli product distribution versus the gains that they make in continuing to trade with Israel, thereby causing a net loss, will this lead to a disinvestment.

The strategies outlined above need not be restricted to Israeli produce or Israeli-made goods. Instead they can be directed towards any company anywhere in the world that continues to trade with the Israeli government. I would particularly encourage this action of disinvestment towards the muslim companies within muslim countries first. There are hundreds of Jordanian and Egyptian companies that trade with Israel everyday. Contact these companies directly using the steps above.

But what is hoped to be achieved through the boycott actions? For one, it would lead to a well-oiled Israeli war machine being far more restrained in its approach to the muslims in Gaza and the rest of Palestine, because they would not want to alienate its own financial support. If large scale disinvestment were to take place, Israel would be required to significantly alter its approach towards oppression, much in the same way as South Africa was forced to. It is perhaps optimistic to expect wide-scale emancipation over this disinvestment action, but we may never know which staw it is we lay that will break the camels back.

Over the coming week, I will research companies and provide sample letters so that this disinvestment campaign can be successful. If anyone has any information regarding companies that would be of interest, please do forward them to me.

Monday, 2 February 2009

A Place Called Gaza - Part Three

To recap from the story last time, Gaza had been abandoned once again when infighting consumed the descendents of Salah-uddin Ayubi, which was then followed by floods, plagues and all manner of natural disasters severely affecting the region. It was left virtually untended by the Mamluk dynasty ( the Egyptian dynasty) , particularly after the natural disasters that it suffered.

The Ottomans, or “Uthmani” empire, however had a different vision for the muslims. They were not content to reside within self-serving fiefdoms, and instead undertook massive campaigns to reunite the Islamic governments under one authority throughout all the muslim regions. They originated from the unification of various Ghazi ( or provinces ) from the breakup of Byzantium, led by Osman the First. They had many military successes before their arrival in the levant, having successfully repelled the mongol hordes from the east as well as conquering Anatolia ( what can now be considered west turkey). These battles were particularly important for muslims, as until the Ottomans were victorious against the Safavids, a Shia dynasty who were involved in inciting various struggles for power within the Ottoman state. They had planned to support violent uprisings led by treacherous relatives of Selim I, and were trying to implode the successful Ottoman empire. This plotting was in particular driven by Shah Ismail, whom some of his followers described as a reincarnation of Ali(ra)!

Selim I considered Shah Ismail a heretic who threatened the very foundations of the deen. Whilst they fought, the Shah ordered his armies to destroy all crops and anything useful to the “enemy” when Selim advanced, whilst at the same time berating him for fighting his muslim “brothers”. The Shah was defeated in the battle of Chaldiran. After this battle, he was able to turn his attentions towards the Mamluk dynasty.

He first tackled the Mamluks in battles near Aleppo, successfully defeating the Egyptian mamluks and forcing them into retreat in Egypt. When taking Damascus and Syria, Selim I lambasted the Alims and Scholars for being so close to the rulers and thereby allowing the mamluk excesses to be prevalent. Selim was able to move quickly through Palestine from this, with the area virtually deserted, particular Gaza. They first entered Gaza and the rest of Palestine in the same year as Syria, 1516.

Gaza to the Ottomans though underpopulated became a key strategic location, it being an excellent link for military expeditions between Egypt and Syria. Confident they had conquered the area, they moved on to other pastures whilst leaving a small reserve force in Gaza itself. The Mamluks however managed to send reinforcements, and participated in a slaughter of the entire garrison leaving no prisoners, killing all the sick and wounded. When the Ottomans returned, they spared no mercy upon the people of Gaza, feeling they had supported the mamluk slaughter. Many civilians were killed.

It is important to understand at this point that Selim I, though I may have given a different impression up to this point, was certainly not infallible by any means. He was known by some subjects and historians as “Selim the Grim”. He took power by killing and imprisoning many of his relatives whom he considered rivals to the throne. According to Shia sources, he was responsible for killing over 40,000 people suspected of heresy within the Ottoman State, and imprisoned thousands more. It should be understood however that even if these numbers are correct, Shah Ismail was reciprocating the treatment with other agitators within his own kingdom.

After this incident of the retaking of Gaza city, there was a key battle in Khan Younis, now famous as a town with an adjacent huge refugee camp within the Gaza Strip. The Ottomans were victorious and able to march upon the Mamluk dynasty, to where they entered triumphantly in Egypt and the Hijaz. The last of the Mamluks, Al-Mutawakkil III, was ordered to surrender the title of Caliph to Selim, together with the sword and cloak of the prophet(saw). These are to this day held in a museum in Turkey.
Even though Gaza was not given a separate wilayah, it was acknowledged as being of extreme military importance. Selim I when passing through the town and returning from Egypt ordered that it be reconstructed. This task fell on the Governor of Damascus.

With Gaza, Palestine, Egypt and Syria under the control of the Ottomans and the European front expanding rapidly, one would think that peace would return to Palestine. This was not to be the case. Gaza was under the control of the Syrian governor, as the “province of Damascus”. In order to abate any rebellions, ex-mamluks were appointed to powerful positions by Selim. These included Janabirde Al-Ghazali, who was made Governor of Damascus.

Selim I died in 1520, but not before he had significantly expanded the empire that he had become the leader of. The Ottomans were announced as a force to be reckoned with on the world stage, and had introduced many key milestones in modern warfare, not least the use of Gunpowder, as well as returning Islam to its rightful prominent place above the sects of the Alawi, Ismalis, Rafidah, and others. Sulayman I ascended to the position of Caliph.

Unfortunately, within days of Selims death, the mamluk governor of Damascus attempted to revolt against Selims son, Sulayman. This revolt encompassed Gaza, as well as pockets in Syria and the rest of Palestine. The newfound muslim unity was demonstrated though when a loyal battalion from Egypt, together with resistance against the revolt by bedioun tribes, arrived to quell the disturbance, with the Mamluk quest for power foiled.

Sulayman from this point onwards would move the Ottoman empire to that of a centrally planned government and economy, in order to regulate the restoration and development of cities, as well as to negate the risk of breakaway provinces. Through this approach, Gaza would emerge as one of the great centers of trade, as we will see in Part four, during the reign of “sulayman the magnificent”.