Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Archive for the ‘Freedom of Expression’ Category

Dangerous Women – Aslı Erdoğan

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

asli-erdoganOn 15 November, to mark the Day of the Imprisoned Writer, PEN centres around the world protested the detention of Aslı Erdoğan, a Turkish novelist and journalist considered a ‘dangerous woman’ by the state for her journalistic activities. Aslı, 49, is a columnist and on the advisory board of the pro-Kurdish opposition daily Özgür Gündem, shut down under the state of emergency imposed after the failed military coup of 15 July 2016. Aslı was arrested at her home in Istanbul, on 17 August 2016 together with twenty other journalists and employees from the paper.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is increasingly intolerant of political opposition, public protest, and critical media. Restrictive laws are regularly used to arrest and prosecute journalists, while media groups who criticise the government are fined.  Since the coup attempt, the silencing of critical voices has reached epic proportions. The government declared a three-month state of emergency (which has been extended for a further 90 days) and, according to PEN’s last count on 24 October 2016, 135 journalists had been charged and were in pre-trial detention; at least eight were detained without charge and others were in police custody under investigation…

To read more please visit http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/11/07/3597/

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dangerous Women – Anna Politkovskaya

Posted by lucypopescu on November 26, 2016

anna_politkovskayaOn 7 October 2006, award-winning Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead outside her Moscow apartment. She was deemed a dangerous woman by many for her investigative work and paid for it with her life. Her body was found slumped in the lift of her apartment block, together with a gun and evidence of four bullets. Her murder had all the hall marks of a contract killing, down to the kontrolnyi vystrel – the control shot, a final bullet into the head at close range – and there is little doubt that her death was in retribution for her fearless reporting, particularly on human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Born in 1958 in New York, Politkovskaya studied journalism at Moscow State University. She worked on the Soviet newspaper Izvestiya for over ten years, before joining Novaya Gazeta in 1999, one of the few newspapers to be openly critical of the Kremlin, its policies in Chechnya, and corruption in the armed forces. She worked as special correspondent for the Moscow newspaper and wrote extensively about Chechnya and human rights abuses in Russia. Her books, translated into English, include A Dirty War: A Russian Reporter in Chechnya(2001), Putin’s Russia (2004) and A Russian Diary, published posthumously in 2008.  At the time of her death, she was working on an article about torture in Chechnya that implicated Ramzan Kadyrov, then the Chechen Prime Minister appointed by President Putin. After her murder, rumours began to circulate that Kadyrov himself was responsible and had ordered the contract killing to coincide with Putin’s birthday.

Politkovskaya was recognised worldwide for her championing of human rights, but her reporting had brought her enemies from various quarters. In the early noughties I was working as Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee and we regularly held campaigns protesting against the intimidation of this courageous journalist. In 2001 Politkovskaya was forced to flee to Vienna, after receiving death threats from a military officer accused of committing atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. She acted as a mediator in the Nord-Ost theatre siege in Moscow in 2002.  Two years later, we learned that Politkovskaya had fallen seriously ill as she attempted to fly to Beslan to cover the hostage crisis there. After drinking tea on the flight to the region, she lost consciousness and was hospitalized, but the suspected toxin was never identified; the results of her blood tests were reportedly destroyed. This led to speculation that she had been deliberately poisoned to stop her from reporting on the siege. Politkovskaya was shaken by this, but continued to write, despite the death threats. One of her enemies was undoubtedly the Chechen leader Kadyrov who, she claimed, had vowed to kill her…

To read more visit http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/10/26/anna-politkovskaya/

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Theatre Review – Burning Doors

Posted by lucypopescu on September 25, 2016

imgresBELARUS Free Theatre (BFT) is a trail-blazing theatre company forced, in their native country, to work in secret locations. In 2010, its three founding members were granted asylum in the UK and have built a loyal following for their politically motivated, invigorating physical productions.

Burning Doors is a scathing critique of the brutal regime of Vladimir Putin. Performed in Russian (with English subtitles) and running at 105 minutes, it is undoubtedly challenging theatre, but also provocative, courageous and visually stunning.

BFT explore three real-life stories of dissidents who have been imprisoned for speaking out against repression. These include Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, who makes her debut with the troupe; Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky; and Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who remains in prison serving a 20-year sentence.

The words of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Michel Foucault are interwoven into the performance and the Austrian painter Egon Schiele is cited as an inspiration. BFT remind us that Russia is a prison – a madhouse where torture and impunity are rife and hysteria the end result. The circularity and banality of state interrogation is underlined while Putin’s rule of law is compared to a game of snooker – opponents are the potted balls.

The company combine physical performance and text to terrific effect. Figures suspended by ropes suggest terrifying scenes of torture and in one memorable scene two men tussle – one is repeatedly thrown to the ground before he rallies and begins to overcome his oppressor.

Burning Doors is a tour de force of political theatre and will remain with you long after the final, rapturous curtain call.

Soho Theatre

UNTIL SEPTEMBER 24
020 7478 0100

Originally published by Camden Review

Posted in Freedom of Expression, Theatre | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Silenced Voices – Jason Rezaian, Iran

Posted by lucypopescu on May 26, 2015

jason RezaianThe trial of a Washington Post journalist detained in Iran for almost 10 months opens behind closed doors.

Freedom of expression and access to information continue to be restricted severely in Iran. Journalists and bloggers are frequently arrested, websites are blocked and a number of news outlets have been shut down. Hundreds of political prisoners, journalists and human rights activists remain in prison, some without facing trial. One of these is Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who was arrested in July last year after Iranian security forces raided his home.

Rezaian, a 38-year-old American-Iranian dual national, and his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, Iran correspondent for The National, an English-language newspaper based in the United Arab Emirates, were arrested at gunpoint at their home on 22 July 2014. Salehi was released in October and warned not to work as a journalist again. Rezaian has been held without trial ever since. He has not been able to meet the defence lawyer hired by his family and his health has deteriorated as a result of over five months’ detention in solitary confinement.

Rezaian moved to Iran from California in 2008 and worked as a freelance journalist, based in Tehran, for publications such as the San Francisco Chronicle, GlobalPost, Slate and Monocle. He has been the Washington Post’s Tehran correspondent since 2012. His last story for the Post was about the growing popularity of baseball in Iran.

Rezaian was reportedly charged in January 2015 with national security offences. Since then, Rezaian’s lawyer, Leila Ahsan, told Iranian state media that her client had been charged with “espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against” Iran. Many believe President Hassan Rouhani has little control over the country’s powerful security and intelligence agencies, which, since his election, have continued to crack down on the media and critics of the regime. At the time of Rezaian’s arrest, Reporters Without Borders noted:

Arbitrary arrests, illegal summonses, for example by intelligence officers of the Revolutionary Guards, are a daily reality for journalists in Iran. Media workers, particularly foreign journalists based in Tehran, are most often accused of spying. They are the victims of a policy of demonizing the foreign media, which is aggravated by the settling of scores among different groups engaged in a power struggle.

Rezaian’s trial opened today in Branch 15 of the Iranian Revolutionary Court, which deals with national security and political crimes. His case has been assigned to Abolghassem Salavati, a hardline judge known for delivering harsh sentences, including lashings and executions, who has been under European Union sanctions since 2011.

Iran does not recognise dual nationality and so Rezaian has not been granted any consular assistance. Rezaian’s family hired a high-profile Iranian lawyer, Masoud Shafii, who has experience of handling national security cases, to represent him. However, the court did not accept their choice of lawyer, instead appointing Ahsan, who also represents his wife. Rezaian was only allowed to meet her in March. A month previously he was allowed outside medical treatment for the first time and received some care packages. He was finally prescribed antibiotics for infections in his eye and groin area. He is currently being held in Evin prison in Tehran, where torture and other forms of ill-treatment are rife. The family has set up a petition on Change.org, where further updates to Rezaian’s case can be read. So far, the petition has collected over 230,000 signatures from more than seventy countries. United States Secretary of State John Kerry and boxer Muhammad Ali, a Muslim American like Rezaian, have called for his immediate release.

According to PEN, over twenty writers are currently detained or are on trial in Iran for the peaceful expression of their opinions. Iran is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary detention and protects the right to freedom of expression and fair trial. Iran has a history of arbitrarily detaining dual nationals, including academics Ramin Jahanbegloo, Haleh Esfandiari and Kian Tajbakhsh in 2006 and 2007, and journalists Roxana Saberi and Maziar Bahari in 2009.

Readers might like to send appeals urging the Iranian authorities to release journalist Jason Rezaian immediately and unconditionally if he is held solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression; calling for him to be granted regular access to all necessary medical treatment and to his family; requesting clarification of the charges against him; and calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all other writers and journalists currently detained in Iran in connection with the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a state party.

Appeals to be addressed to:

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei

The Office of the Supreme Leader

Islamic Republic Street – End of Shahid Keshvar Doust Street

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Email: info_leader@leader.ir

Twitter: @khamenei_ir

 

President of the Islamic Republic of Iran

Hassan Rouhani

Pasteur Street, Pasteur Square

Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran

Email: media@rouhani.ir

Twitter: @HassanRouhani (English)

 

The ambassador’s post is currently vacant, but readers can send copies of their appeal to info@iran-embassy.org.uk

This is an updated version of an article published in the Literary Review in March 2015

Posted in Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review – La Lucha

Posted by lucypopescu on May 18, 2015

La LuchaMexico has long been one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists and human rights activists to work in. Critics are often abducted or murdered with impunity. Furthermore, over the past two
decades, gender based violence reached such epic proportions: Juárez city, for example, has become known as the “femicide” capital of the world. This is the chilling backdrop to Jon Sack’s graphic novel, part of a series published by Front Line Defenders (FLD), a Dublin based international human rights organization.

The book centres on a real life figure, Luz (Lucha) Estela Castro Rodríguez, a lawyer and campaigner for women’s rights in the state of Chihuahua, considered one of the most violent regions of Mexico. In 2002, Lucha cofounded the organization Justice for Our Daughters, and in 2005 the Center for Human Rights of Women. Through her work, Sack and Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at FLD, gained access to the stories of ordinary Mexicans who have been devastated by the murder or disappearance of loved ones and of those who have fled to the United States.

These include the Salazar Reyes family. Josefina, a wellknown activist, protested against a proposed radioactive waste site in Sierra Blanca, opposed the militarization of
Juárez, and denounced the mass murder of women in the region. In August 2008, the military abducted her son Miguel Ángel. After being tortured for sixteen days, he was released. Three months later, Josefina’s other son, Julio César, was murdered at a wedding. Josefina continued her protests until January 3, 2010, when she, too, was murdered. Her
brother Rubén was killed seven months later. On February 25, 2011, the bodies of Magdalena Reyes Salazar, her brother Elias, and his wife Luisa Ornelas Soto were found dumped along
the side of a road in Guadalupe, Chihuahua.

By using black and white comic book art – arguably more effective at drawing the reader in than a block of text describing the violence – Jon Sack immerses the reader in his subject; his representation of shootings and torture powerfully conveys that violence is commonplace in Mexico. Employing light and shade to great effect, he presents the killers as shadows – a chilling reminder of how Juárez’s faceless murderers continue to escape justice.

Originally published the TLS

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression, Mexico | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Film review – Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd

Posted by lucypopescu on March 26, 2015

1010 col movies uyghurs 9213Montreal-based Patricio Henriquez’s  compassionate film Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd (2014), follows the stories of three Uyghurs unlawfully imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. East Turkestan has been annexed to China on and off for the last three centuries and was named ‘Xinjiang’ (new frontier) in the nineteenth century. China has repressed the Uyghurs for decades and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) was established in 1993 to fight for the rights of their people. In the late 1990s, many activists, and ordinary citizens fearing persecution, fled across the borders into Afghanistan and Pakistan in an attempt to rebuild their lives there. Some found a haven in the mountains, in a small Uyghur village controlled by the Taliban. In the wake of 9/11 the Americans commenced an aerial bombardment of the region and offered substantial financial rewards for those willing to aid the identification and arrest of terrorists.

In total, 22 members of China’s Muslim Uyghur minority were detained and ended up incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay prison for several years despite never having engaged in armed combat. Henriquez follows the fates of Abu Bakker Qassum, Khalil Mamut and Ahmat Abdulahad, two of whom were sold to the Americans as terrorists by the Pakistani army for $5000 each. They were sent to Guantánamo where they remained, without charge or trial, for between 5 and 7 years. The US government declared that Guantánamo detainees would be treated as ‘unlawful combatants’, rather than prisoners of war, which effectively meant that they didn’t intend to follow the principles of the Geneva Convention.

The Uyghurs were found innocent but complex US politics led to their continued detention and a recalcitrant Congress wouldn’t sign off their release. This impasse was not helped by the Chinese government continuing to claim that they were dangerous terrorists, blatantly ignoring the lack of evidence. Tragically, Barack Obama’s government couldn’t resettle them and set about trying to bribe other countries to grant them safe haven.

Henriquez’s film is largely comprised of talking-head interviews with the victims, their stalwart translator,./

, and the American lawyers who worked for their freedom pro-bono.  Frustratingly, because the US military were so careful to cover their tracks and evidence of torture there is little footage to be had from the top security detention centre. However, the interviewees’ emotional scars are evident and it is impossible not to be moved by their testimonies.

Eventually, the Uyghurs were found homes in Albania, Bermuda, El Salvador, Palau, Switzerland and Slovakia. There is no mention of compensation. As one of them points out, they have lost their best years in prison, in inhumane conditions. Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd is indeed a surreal journey through American politics, American hypocrisy and a warped justice system.

Shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Review originally published by Cine-vue.com

Posted in Films, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Film Review – No Land’s Song

Posted by lucypopescu on March 23, 2015

No land's songAyat Najafi’s enthralling documentary film No Land’s Song is about his sister Sara’s attempts to stage a concert in Tehran featuring female soloists. Following the Islamic revolution of 1979 female singers were banned from performing solo in public, unless to an exclusively female audience.  Iran has a history of iconic female singers, such as Qamar al-Molouk Vaziri, Delkash and Googoosh. Now their recordings are only available on the black market.

Sara, a composer, and her friends feel keenly the loss of the female voice in Iran. She decides to plan a public concert of Persian music with singers Parvin Namazi and Sayeh Sodeyfi. She enlists the help of two French female soloists Élise Caron and Jeanne Cherhal and Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian singer-songwriter known for her protest songs. Sara presents the project to the authorities as an opportunity to rebuild cultural bridges between France and Iran.

In his feature debut, Germany-based Najafi accompanies his sister on a sometimes labyrinthine journey. Sara visits a traditional teashop and one man recalls the pre-Revolution cabarets and music clubs where women drank alcohol and sang freely. Whenever she attends the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance there is a blackout. Sara clandestinely records the increasingly surreal conversations. Most telling of all is her interview with a religious scholar to ask why women can’t sing solo in front of a male audience any more. He tells her “No decent man sitting in public and listening to music should get sexually aroused. He mustn’t deviate from his normal condition.” These episodes are in stark contrast to the light and colour of her Paris visits.

The French musicians Sara works with are by turn excited and frustrated by the bureaucracy of the state and its indecision about granting them visas and whether the concert can go ahead. Eventually, in 2013, the authorities decide that the foreign musicians can come to Tehran but, fearful of another Green Wave (uprising), the concert is postponed until after the presidential elections in June. When the musicians finally arrive in September, the authorities again get cold feet after Emel posts an incautious message on Facebook. Sara receives complaints that the women’s voices are too loud in rehearsal and that they aren’t taking proper care with their hijabs.

Made in partnership with Al Jazeera English and TV5 Monde, No Land’s Song is a provocative and compelling film about fighting repression and injustice with music – the featured songs are about hope, freedom and rebellion. It speaks volumes about the treatment of women and freedom of expression in Iran today and is both entertaining and profoundly moving.

Shown as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Review originally published by Cine-Vue.com

 

 

Posted in Films, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book review – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible

Posted by lucypopescu on February 14, 2015

Nothing is truePeter Pomerantsev, Kiev-born and raised in England, lived and worked in Moscow for almost a decade. As a television producer, whose parents left the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Pomerantsev is uniquely placed to offer a bold, penetrating insight into Russia today and Vladimir Putin’s “post-modern dictatorship”.

After joining Russia’s burgeoning television industry in the Noughties, Pomerantsev found himself in demand as the networks were keen to exploit popular Western entertainment and reality shows. His first commission was How to Marry a Millionaire: (A Gold-digger’s Guide). Entry into this world meant Pomerantsev met many modern Russians attempting to survive or exploit the new order, among them was Oliona, an attractive young woman who has perfected the art of ensnaring a “sponsor”, also known as “Forbeses” (as in the Forbes World’s Billionaires list), and Vitaly, a former gangster who makes films and writes books about his life. As Pomerantsev wryly notes “when the President ascended to the Kremlin … [the] secret service took over organised crime themselves; there was no way hoodlums could compete.”

Pomerantsev swiftly recognised that “TV is the only force that can unify and rule and bind the country”. Putin seized control of the medium as soon as he came to power and has since used it to project Kremlin propaganda and destroy opposition. It is the corruption, cultural and political oppression, orchestrated by the Kremlin, that increasingly occupies Pomerantsev.

He follows the case of Yana Yakovleva who found herself in a Kafkaesque nightmare when she was arrested and held for seven months for “trading in diethyl ether”. She bought and sold industrial cleaning fluids including diethyl ether but was accused of distributing illegal drugs. She was eventually released after refusing to pay a bribe.

In 2009, Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer probing financial corruption, died after being beaten in prison. Back in London, Pomerantsev met William Browder, the former investment banker who had hired Magnitsky to pursue officials who obtained huge tax rebates on illegally obtained companies; a scam known as the “black till of the Kremlin”. It is fitting that this book ends in London, “the perfect home for money launderers”. Unwittingly or not, we still accept tainted Russian money.

Pomerantsev is particularly entertaining when observing the changing fads of the television industry, but for the most part he focuses on the sad, sometimes surreal, form corruption takes today. Most political intrigues lead back to the Kremlin and, as Pomerantsev amply demonstrates, Putin’s authoritarianism has many guises.

Originally published by the Independent on Sunday

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review – Guantanamo Diary

Posted by lucypopescu on February 3, 2015

Guantánamo DiaryThe journal of a Guantánamo detainee who remains incarcerated despite being cleared for release in 2010 makes a sobering, often chilling, read. Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been imprisoned without charge for over 13 years. Arrested in his native Mauritania, Slahi was rendered by the United States to Jordan and Afghanistan, before being sent to Cuba in August 2002. There he was reduced to a number – “prisoner 760”.

Slahi’s “crime” was to travel to Afghanistan as a student in 1991 and 1992 to join al-Qaida’s fight against the communist-led government. As he points out, at the time the US supported the cause.

The fact that the Bush administration sanctioned the use of torture at Guantánamo Bay is already well known. TheTortureReport.org was published in 2010 – Slahi’s editor Larry Siems is one of its lead writers. Slahi’s searing account of his ritual humiliation and mistreatment offers further compelling evidence of illegal rendition and interrogation under President Bush.

It is the detail that convinces. Slahi describes being shackled, blindfolded, made to stand for long periods, stripped naked, denied water and subjected to sleep deprivation, loud noise and threats of violence. In one passage he describes being sexually abused by female interrogators. Another time, he is transported out to sea, forced to drink salt water until he vomits and then is beaten in the face and ribs while immersed in ice to hide the bruising. In 2004, at the end of his tether, Slahi resorted to making false confessions to keep his interrogators happy.

In 2005, finally allowed pen and paper, Slahi wrote his prison diary in English, his fourth language. His turn of phrase, obviously picked up from his jailers, “for Pete’s sake”, “dead right”, “that’s very convenient” and “if you’re buying, I’m selling”, are strangely endearing. They remind us of Slahi’s humanity and his sense of kinship with his abusers. Despite the cruelty of solitary confinement, Slahi finds solace in unexpected places. Deprived of any sensory material, he reads again and again the tag on his pillow. Slahi’s humour also shines through. When the guards decide Slahi is to be nicknamed “Pillow” and he has to give them names of characters from Star Wars, Slahi comments wryly, “I was forced to represent the forces of Evil, and the guards the Good Guys.”

Guantánamo Diary was published last week in 13 countries simultaneously, accompanied by a high profile campaign. Slahi’s story deserves to be widely read. It took over six years for the manuscript to be cleared for public release and, even then, the US government added over 2500 black bar redactions. One can only hope that after light is shed on the horrors he has endured Slahi will be released and finally see justice done.

 Originally published by the Independent on Sunday

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Book Review – Refusing the Veil

Posted by lucypopescu on November 30, 2014

refusing the veilYasmin Alibhai-Brown describes herself as a “leftie liberal, anti-racist, feminist Muslim” and undoubtedly there will be many fellow Muslims and leftie liberals who take issue with her incisive repudiation of the veil.

She fully expects to cause controversy – in her preface she points out that the book is “political, not personal”. But needs must. As she observes, “the version of Islam that is spreading all over the world is getting more misogynistic and pushing back against female egalitarianism”. Given the increased pressure on women worldwide to cover up in the name of religion, Alibhai-Brown’s short, eloquent treatise is both topical and necessary.

Refusing the Veil is divided into three parts. In the first, Alibhai-Brown looks back to the early days of Islam and reminds us that the women in the Prophet’s family were “conspicuous, active and powerful”. His first wife, Khadijah, was a successful merchant, his second, Aisha, led an army. Women in the Prophet’s household were required to dress differently from other women to signify their status. Rich women copied the elite religious family to distinguish themselves from the less well-off: “It was not piety but vanity and snobbery that made them do it.” It is a shocking indictment that today women in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim-run territories are more disadvantaged than women were during the Prophet’s lifetime.

In the 1970s, when Alibhai-Brown arrived here from her native Uganda, British Muslim women did not wear headscarves or cover their faces. What has gone wrong? Why do women agree to cloak themselves in “a moving cell without a window or small opening – a space of absolute darkness”. Alibhai-Brown blames “brainwashing perpetrated through religious dogma” and Wahhabist doctrine; in particular, she asserts, the Saudi regime’s repression of women is being imported into Britain and becoming embedded in our culture. She believes today’s revivalists “not only claim these garments for Islam, they do so to silence women”. She criticises the British Government for its continued alliance with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, fully aware that they “fund ideologues and terrorists”.

Children are also being made to cover up. John Lewis even stocks hijabs in its school uniform department. As Alibhai-Brown remarks “the gowns impede free movement; they are an encumbrance …. The children thus clad can’t play properly in playgrounds – they will trip over as they run. By the time they are teenagers the indoctrination will be complete.” In some schools, Muslim parents refuse to let girls swim, take physical education, play music or perform.

Alibhai-Brown uses various examples to illustrate and support her arguments. She reminds us of the appalling death of 15 school children, killed in a fire in Saudi Arabia after the sinisterly named Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice prevented fire fighters from rescuing them because the girls were not properly covered. Her mother’s perspective is also poignant. Jena, born in 1920, a devout Shia Muslim follower of a liberal sect, describes the resurgence of women wanting to wear the veil as like “going into a grave before you have to”.

One of the hardest arguments to counter is when women say they cover up of their own free will. Alibhai-Brown’s blunt response is that they are “acquiescing to and projecting religious misogyny and cultural disdain”. In the final part, she summarises her main arguments for refusing the veil. These range from gender equality to protecting women against sexual violence (veils hide bruises); and health (women who are covered from head to foot will suffer vitamin D deficiency); to security and safety (niqabs offer the perfect disguise for those who want to commit acts of terrorism).

Alibhai-Brown does not go so far as to call for an outright ban. At one point she writes “bans are cudgels. They punish or frighten veiled Muslim women or, worse, criminalise them, as in France”. Her solution is to insist on dress codes that apply to all in school, other educational establishments and the workplace. Yet she quotes the European Court of Human Rights that upheld the French law banning niqabs in public spaces and suggests Britain should take the declaration seriously.

The situation, she says, has become untenable and she feels duty-bound to confront those “hard Muslim men” who want “to banish the Muslim female from all shared spaces, including mosques and malls, gardens and streets, schools and colleges, even hospitals and government buildings. They want them walled up, kept indoors cooking and cleaning, making babies, uncomplaining, silent and grateful.” The fact that Alibhai-Brown is Muslim makes her stand the more courageous. Those interested in equality, justice and the emancipation of all women should buy this accessible, forthright book, talk about it and share its central message.

Originally published by the Independent on Sunday 

Posted in Books, Freedom of Expression | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
%d bloggers like this: