David, how times have changed.


Earlier today David Cameron set out  his government’s strategy to defeat the “poison of Islamist extremism,” as he coined in at the school in the great city of Birmingham. Our PM pledged to tackle the extremist ideology and “the failures of integration” which he said had led to hundreds of Britons joining those nutters who call themselves Daesh.

In his speech the PM stated  “It begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. And it often backs violence to achieve this aim – mostly violence against fellow Muslims – who don’t subscribe to its sick worldview”.

Now David, as a PR man to another PR man, surely you know it is essential to understand the usage of words and values? For example the term ‘Islamist,’ is one word which can be slightly subjective.  After all in 2007 you did state: “Many Muslims I’ve talked to about these issues are deeply offended by the use of the word ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ to describe the terrorist threat we face today We do need greater understanding of the true nature of the terrorist threat. There’s too much complacency about it among non-Muslims, and too much denial of it in the Muslim community. But our efforts are not helped by lazy use of language. Indeed, by using the word ‘Islamist’ to describe the threat, we actually help do the terrorist ideologues’ work for them, confirming to many impressionable young Muslim men that to be a ‘good Muslim’, you have to support their evil campaign..”

So I guess today by using that term ‘Islamist,’ we have actually help to the terrorist idealogues’ work for them.” The term ‘Islamists’ is to broad and open ended. If I am not making sense then please watch this short explainer (yes it is attributed editorially, but I do feel it has wider reaches as well)


Just a thought. Of course I could elaborate on other aspects of the speech and the fallout, failures and successes, but i’d rather let the experts fight it out.

Of course radicalisation is a problem and it must be dealt with accordingly, but ignoring economic issues, class, identity and the FP terminology is slightly far- fetched. But what do I know, I don’t work for Quilliam Foundation or engage in Prevent funded projects.

Finally, no doubt many experts will be writing, tweeting and commentating in relation to the speech. Personally I would recommend you read  An Open Letter to Britain’s Leading Violent Extremist: David Cameron.

How best to stop radicalisation? – Two views

Hasan Patel

Recently I came across two very different narratives on how to engage in radicalisation and extremism amongst British Muslims.

One on hand a start warning from experts, academics and grass rooted individuals who believe Government deradicalisation plan will brand Muslims with beards as terrorists, further elaborating  it as a direct assault on freedom of speech and a move towards a police state. In an unprecedented intervention, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures claim the controversial law will make Britain less safe as it will force radical political discussion underground.  Individuals like Karen Armstrong, Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University, Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer in counter-terrorism, who was wrongly arrested under anti-terror laws by Nottingham Police for downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from a US Government website he we was using to research his PHD. The letter states: “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free…

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How best to stop radicalisation? – Two views

Recently I came across two very different narratives on how to engage in radicalisation and extremism amongst British Muslims.

One on hand a stark warning from experts, academics and grass rooted individuals who believe Government deradicalisation plan will brand Muslims with beards as terrorists, further elaborating  it as a direct assault on freedom of speech and a move towards a police state. In an unprecedented intervention, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures claim the controversial law will make Britain less safe as it will force radical political discussion underground.  Individuals like Karen Armstrong, Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University, Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer in counter-terrorism, who was wrongly arrested under anti-terror laws by Nottingham Police for downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from a US Government website he we was using to research his PHD. The letter states: “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, Prevent will make us less safe.”

However a few days prior to this strongly worded letter another letter appeared in the Guardian titled:  “United, we can protect our young people from extremists” which urged people of all communities, religion, government and non-government to work together to stand united against extremism. With one voice – they launched a collective fightback against those who wish to do us harm, by launching a website called Fightback Starts Here. Looking at the list of people and organisations who support the fightback , they all have one thing in common, they have all been receiving directly, indirectly or through partnerships been in receipt of a Prevent funding since 2005. Organisations on the list who have been in receipt of the funding are the Leicester based Federation of Muslim Organisations, JIMAS, Inspire, Active Change Foundation and St Phillips Centre in Leicester.

In the wake of the 7/7 attacks in London, the Labour Government stepped up the programme spending tens of millions on hundreds of schemes across the country.
But many of these initiatives were regarded by people as little more than using various community organisations who were all dependent on government funding competing with each other to the bidding on behalf of the government. The funds were used on converting the converted and in some cases used as canon fodder to gather intelligence on their local communities.

So who would you rather take advice from? A group of people who are independent of any government direction and agenda who have consistently warned people about the agenda and direction of Prevent and the danger these policies will have in the long run, or take advice from people who have made careers and businesses from Prevent who have it it in their interests to make Prevent work?

I’ll let you decide.

Book Review: The Thunder That Roars

91ys5goXaZL._SL1500_“The Young journalist has an exceptional grasp of world affairs, which he attribute to his hyphenated identity. He says. ‘Well I sometimes wonder. Am I South African? Am I an Indian? Am I a Muslim? Rather, more wonderfully, am I all these things blended into one and created for a purpose? I have been obsessed with these issues, Middle Eastern politics, migration, social justice, for long as I remember. It could be all because I am a a baby of the new South Africa. We were born into a miracle and an ideal, at the same time as our country reinvented itself and soothed the painful scars of racial oppression.” You would think Imran Garda was writing about himself?  However, in this case they are the words of Yusuf Carrim, the protagonist in The Thunder That Roars, the debut novel by Garda.

A book I managed to read in two days, Garda brings his descriptive magic, wit, current affairs, identity, religion, travelling monologue and short bursts of African and Indian heritage and eccentricities into a seismic mix of intrigue and what happens next mode.

The characters in the book are full of flavour, from Barack the Somali refugee to Sukuzukuduma the Zimbabwean veteran patriach. Garda relates their stories intertwined into events and moments that any student of current affairs can relate to.

As someone who has worked in a newsroom there were instances in novel where I thought, damn, why couldn’t live the professional life of Carrim, at times his experiences were too good to be true (but of course not with the emotional baggage related to his new found heritage), but nevertheless, who wouldn’t want to be a famous international journalist jet setting the world and managing to deliver the odd Juma Khutbah?.

Garda, in my opinion strikes it gold by weaving the story of Carrim into the narratives of the Arab Spring, South African Indian Islam, racism, migrant workers and immigration coupled with a thorough description of life and surroundings of New York, Johannesburg, Bulawayo and Lampedusa. Similarly the characters of Yusuf, Jack, Fehmida and Naazim can be related to any man of Gujarati descent. I enjoyed studying these characters and their experiences, whether it was the realism of Yusuf, the panache and guilt of Jack, the unfulfilled yet material life of Fehmida and the ‘son I never had’ character of Naazim. I understood their complexities and mindsets as I for one felt I not only knew them but may have met their types in Sandton, Birmingham and Toronto.

If you are someone who has an understanding of identity politics, African society and a passion for international affairs coupled into a story of fiction where it is not related to a middle class European narrative then this book is the one for you. The Thunder That Roars is not only a debut novel for Imran Garda, but an inspiration for many current and former journalists that a career in literature writing can be achieved. I just can’t wait for his second book.

Book Review: 18 Days Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution

18_jazeera_feature-770x47218 days from 25 January to 11 February 2011 had not changed the Arab streets due to revolution but also changed the way the world judged and saw how Al Jazeera English was not just an ordinary news channel. The network channel known by some right wing commentators as “Terror TV” was part of the wider Al Jazeera Media Network where once in 2003 the Arabic channel was famously remarked by Hosni Mubarak as a “tiny matchbox,” had overnight become a trusted and reliable news source which controlled the news agenda for the best part of 2011.

18 Days: Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution studies the account of the channel during the 18 days of the Egyptian revolution in 2011. Authored by Scott Bridges who had worked at the channel on two occasions the book gives a blow by blow account of the relationship between the newsroom, the journalists reporting in Egypt and the lives of the people they were reporting on from the streets of Egypt as change was sweeping the Arab world’s most populous country.  Bridges uses his own experience from working for the cosmopolitian newsroom providing abehind the scene account portraying a deep analysis of how this news channel based in the desert city of Doha became the most sought news source both on TV and online. Bridges highlights the powress during that time of the channel’s  unlimited resources of newsgathering, risk taking journalism and sharp editorial judgement in leadership which transformed the media landscape. However Bridges also uses the opportunity to examine Al Jazeera English and its relationship with its Qatari benefactors, its role within the world and the challenges the channel now faces after its ‘CNN moment’ in 2011.

The book is a day to day journey of what really took place at the channel trying to report the facts as correspondents Sherine Tadros, Ayman Mohyedin and Rawya Rageh along with their colleagues were beaming the revolution into the homes of millions of people, to the behind the scene conversations in the gallery when presenters Adrian Finigan or Kamahl Santamaria were guiding the audience to the plethora of events.

As an individual who watched Al Jazeera during that period as an audience member rather than as a journalist the book offers a great narrative during the events ranging the last minute heated tensions off air or problems with the B-Gan’ which forced correspondent Jamal ElShayyal to look at alternatives to get his content beamed from Alexandra to Doha.

Salah Negm, the channel’s Director of News was quoted by Bridges as saying: “Once you have a big news story, you focus on it, you own it, concentrate on it; make yourself the point of interest,” during the 18 days of the revolution Al Jazeera did exactly that. As editorial staff by default were focusing on the Tunisian revolution, management decided to send correspondent Rawya Rageh to capture the mood in Cairo outside the Tunisian embassy where a dozen protesters had gathered. Even though Raweh along with many colleagues were not convinced anything may blow into a full blown revolution, her closing lines in the package was: ” Whike it’s not clear if these limited protests could gain enough traction to replicate what happened in Tunisia, the sentiment is clear; change is coming, Tunisia is the inspiration,” yet as Rageh told Bridges in her mind she was not convinced that anything remotely on the scale of what to come was about to happen. Rawya didn’t believe that change would come, but then like her colleagues her sentiments were that nobody had an inkling of what was to come.

Bridges goes into detail on how events on the 25th January changed the the editorial debates in Doha which prompted Mohammed Nanabhay the head of online at the time to take the call to place Egypt ahead of the Palestine Papers story, which was scheduled for the day of the protests, even though Al Jazeera had one eye of the 25th January protests it didn’t mean Al Jazeera were not prepared, Bridges shows with examples how during the day on the 25th the wheels started in motion to focus more on Egypt with staff, news gathering and resources.

Despite TV having the resources and were leading the content discourse, Nanabhay and his online team played a central role in the development of the story from the streets of Egypt with the use of social media and constant updates on the site together with the live streaming of the news. The importance of the online character was demonstrated when during the course of the 18 days there was a 2500% increase on website traffic which placed aljazeera.com above the New York Times as a news source.

Bridges uses anecdotal examples of failing equipment, rolling news and near death experiences draws the reader to not just understand the editorial nuances but the emotional and physical dealings journalists had to endure as history was being made.

Bridges offers a perspective on why Al Jazeera the new kid on the block shook the media landscape and brought into journalism the “Al Jazeera DNA,” something Al Anstey the Managing Director always refer to. Despite the constant scrutiny and challenges the channel is currently facing, 18 Days shows how the channel answers their critics not by rhetoric but by its content. Even though the channel has dispelled the myths of being a “Terror TV” station, the channel has new challenges, most notably to campaign for the release of its three arrested journalists in Egypt and the constant questions on editorial independence and bias. Yet the enormity of the channel’s reputation which it has itself cultivated had brought goodwill support from competitors, world governments and human rights group in their calls to free their colleagues, while the integrity and respect for good honest journalism through its news and programmes has won many plaudits from their peers and beyond. Bridges in the words of the blogger Grayson Hamilton highlights the network’s philosophy: “Deliver the facts, give them context, and serve the public,” something which has served the channel well for the past nine years and not just 18 days in the early days of 2011.

Pioneer and patriach – The Unsung Hero

“Success isn’t what I did, success is getting things done to help others” – probably the greatest piece of advice a great man once told me, who sadly departed from this world to meet his maker earlier this week. It is an irony however, that he himself who gave me this valuable advice, lived his entire life through the prism of that particular quote.

I have been fortunate in meeting some very remarkable and inspiring individuals, whether they were leaders of countries, academic geniuses, enlightened scholars or even humble community leaders, but Ahmed Mohammed Patel (Ahmed nana) was an individual who had such a profound impact on my life, second only to my own late grandfather, that he himself stood above the heads of statesmen and leaders, of whom so much was written.

Ahmed nana was not a world leader, or a captain of industry or even great philanthropist, books, titles and eulogies may not be bestowed upon him, because he may have been an average man living an average life, but for the many few his contribution and legacy will outshine and outlive people for generations.

Born in the village of Kankaria in the mid 1920’s, he was born into a wealthy, influential and politically active Patel family. He was born into a family who had immense influence and to live under the shadows of his grandfather, father and uncle’s would be no mean feat, especially as he was the firstborn grandson of Asmalji Patel.

Ahmed nana’s childhood began with tragedy as his father Mohammed Patel had died after being trampled by a stampede of bulls, Ahmed Nana was only a year old, while his mother Amina was expecting their second child (my grandmother, Fatima). Nevertheless both brother and sister were not deprived the love of a father, as their younger uncle, Yusuf Patel married their widowed young mother Amina and provided stability, love and affection to both Ahmed nana and Fatima. I was always reminded by both siblings that the love, care and teachings he provided to them, a real father could not match it for his own children. It is an irony that the death of Ahmed Nana coincided with the 36th anniversary of the death of Yusuf Patel, while one man died on 6/8/2012 (17th Ramadan 1433 AH) the other died on 6/8/1976 (10th Ramadan 1396 AH).

The greatest quality of which I give tribute to Ahmed nana was how his intentions through his actions were executed after he had arrived in the United Kingdom during the early part of the 1960’s determined the future for so many individuals. Like many men of his generation, he arrived without the knowledge of the language, customs or even understanding of what the United Kingdom stood for, but like most men of his generation he quickly adapted to life and rather than just pursue the solace of the Pound and the British passport he started to think how his family, his people and his community can gain from this opportunity from the villages of India to the mill towns of the United Kingdom, where hopefully lives and fortunes can change.

From the onset Ahmed nana himself did not need to be working in the mills of Yorkshire and Lancashire, living in squalid conditions with other men and face the bitter chill of the British winter as he himself was quite wealthy by most standards in India. As at the age of 9 he inherited his father’s share of his grandfather’s huge estate, but while his family were in Bid, his share of the land was in Kankaria, but nevertheless he had spent his childhood in Bid, and only after his marriage in 1949 to Amina Musaji Patel (his uncle’s daughter) did he officially take up residence in Kankaria.

However, as an immigrant worker in the United Kingdom he knew he had a sense duty to his own family. Not only did this man strive to bring his own wife and eight children to the United Kingdom, which was the basic norm that most men had carried out during the 1960’s and 1970’s, he personally undertook the opportunity to look at ways to see how his extended family could also benefit.

A few years ago it was roughly calculated that due to Ahmed nana at least 250 people currently living in the United Kingdom, of whom many are born and bred as British from my family can trace a connection back to Ahmed nana. Here was a man who was responsible for many individual to come to the United Kingdom from India, and thus start a new life with their own families.
Whether it was working in Manchester to acquire vouchers for his younger brother’s and cousins so they can work in the United Kingdom, or looking at how he could ensure his sister and her children could settle in the United Kingdom or whether through marrying of individuals; the future of many homes were enhanced in both countries due to the effort of one man. One such example was of him sponsoring a poor man from the village of Kankaria, who in India could not even manage to have two meals a day, but sponsoring him and even arranging his marriage the fortunes had changed from despair to hope.

Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have ended up being farmers and housewives in India are now successfu Ulama, Hufaaz, businessmen, teachers, lawyers, pharmacists, broadcast journalists and above all content in life. Through the endeavours of one man, people who may have had deep economic problems due to demographic changes within their own family structure in India are now happily living in their own homes across the United Kingdom and beyond. Through the endeavours of one man, his own family not only had contributed to the development of their community in India but many had contributed and still do so in civic life within the United Kingdom.

I, myself enjoyed listening to his stories of family history and his take on the world while he would be making his customary paan, which would be made ready for consumption and then spat out in the old mango tin if there was excessive tobacco within minutes. His hand gestures while he would state an opinion and those stary eyes, which he inherited from his mother, which would be noted if he was displeased (my grandmother herself can use the stare rather well, I must say), were unique traits he would possess.

I recall one incident when he was talking about influence, and he said to me “the Patel of village may have been someone else, but in your grandfather’s home (Hasanji Patel) decisions were made by cups of tea, never assume titles can give influence,” or the time he once had told me “every person has a worth, never think the King is mightier than the beggar.” Profound anecdotes but with clear precise meanings, which would give any master strategic operators like Peter Mandelson or Alistair Campbell a run for their money.

He was a man who held strong beliefs and convictions, he would give out honest statements and hold opinions and yet not fear the consequences, he held immense pride in the name of his family and his heritage and would remind people of their past, their duties and their future.

But he was a man who held deep loyalties and had a share of responsibility towards certain people. He once remarked to me and an uncle of mine, who both had lost our mothers, that it was his duty to look out for us as he’ll one day have to meet his creator and answer for his deeds.

The death of Ahmed nana has brought an unbearable loss, but even though the world and society did not or could not honour his life, the almighty honoured him by taking him to his house of prayer in Ramadan for Umrah, while bringing him back home to his family where he departed during Maghrib to his creator in the auspicious month of Ramadan.

Human beings are mere mortals, their destiny and actions are all determined by the almighty who must have liked something in him Ahmed nana to grant him a noble death.
Ahmed nana’s life, achievements and successes may have gone unnoticed, while for others it will be always remembered, but for those who have mourned his death we need to ask ourselves the question will our lives be remembered on what ‘I’ did or will it be based on getting things done in order to help others? A benchmark, one such pioneer had passed with flying colours that I doubt could be matched or even attempted.

“Those who patiently persevere, seeking the countenance of their Lord; Establish regular prayers; spend, out of (the gifts) We have bestowed for their sustenance, secretly and openly; and turn off Evil with good: for such there is the final attainment of the (eternal) home

Gardens of perpetual bliss: they shall enter there, as well as the righteous among their fathers, their spouses, and their offspring: and angels shall enter unto them from every gate (with the salutation)

“Peace unto you for that ye persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final home!”

~ Surah Rad 22-24”

France’s media as undecided as its voters

Al jazeera – Something I wrote before the First French election.

With the first round of the French presidential election less than 24 hours away, there has seemingly yet to be any great wave of public excitement over any of the candidates or their policies.

The French media, along with the general public, often unanimously agree that the “real election” comes during the second round, in which the top two runners fight it out for the key to the Elysee Palace.

Ten candidates will compete in Sunday’s first round – and if, as expected, none wins 50 per cent of the votes cast, there will be a second, run-off round.

n a country where all candidates are given equal coverage and where televised political advertisements are banned, the frontrunners have to share the media stage with their less popular candidates. Nevertheless, editorial analysis and judgement plays an important role in getting politicians’ message across.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has recently been trailing in the polls to his rival, the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande.

Sarkozy has been blamed for the country’s economic difficulties, and – for someone who was elected in 2007 for his personality and policies – he is now someone who appears to have lost his charm and popularity.


Hollande, on the other hand, has been called “the president in waiting”. He is seen as an affable moderate, whose quiet manner and corporate tax-raising economic policy differ sharply from Sarkozy’s glamour and free market ideals.

The campaign of centrist François Bayrou – who in 2007 took nearly a fifth of the first round vote – has become somewhat marginalised, over-shadowed by the more extreme right and left wing candidates. He does, however, remain influential in terms of where his votes will go in round two.

The far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen has been polling at 15 per cent with her policies against the “tsunami” of illegal immigration, and the “Islamisation” of France, but she hasn’t managed to make as much of an impact as once predicted.

The far-left candidate Jean Luc Melenchon, who has attracted voters with radical ideas – such as a “citizens’ revolution” based on the ideals of the 1871 Paris Commune – is also polling at 15 per cent, in close competition with Le Pen for third place.

n the final stretch before Sunday’s vote, Sarkozy is under pressure, with most opinion polls showing him trailing behind Hollande, who is expected by many observers to beat the incumbent in the second round of polling on May 6.

In the 2007 election, Sarkozy was much more popular in the media, talked up as a potential “hope and change” for France, ushering the country into a new era. 

But after five years as president, where he has presided over an economic lull, the media have become much more critical and sceptical of the man dubbed the “bling bling president”.

Nevertheless, Sarkozy has always found an ally in the right-leaning daily newspaper Le Figaro, which is an exception to the rule, firmly supporting the incumbent – calling a major campaign speech “rich, lyrical, and forward-looking” in an editorial comment.

Usual lines

Yet, even as the polls swing against him, Sarkozy told [Fr] Le Figaro that if Hollande were to win it would be “catastrophic” for the French economy – which has been the long-running argument from the right.

Le Figaro maintained a Hollande victory would mean Mélenchon and his far-left support base would hold the new president hostage with “suicidal economic policies … to the detriment of France”.

But the left-leaning Le Monde said the Sarkozy presidency had “egregious shortcomings, due to his ubiquity, his exhibitionism, his endless capacity to contradict himself, his fascination with the rich, and his tendency to blame all shortcomings on the unemployed, immigrants, Muslims and civil servants”.

Liberation, another left-leaning newspaper, said the financial markets “were not scared by the left” and had anticipated a Socialist win in both the presidential and parliamentary elections.

This acceptance – that if opinion polls are correct – means that on May 7, President Hollande will be the first Socialist president since 1995.

Throughout the campaign, a key component of debate and scrutiny has been the economy, with both leading candidates promising to balance the budget. Hollande, however has emphasised growth, in comparison with attempts to cut deficits through the “austerity” measures of Sarkozy’s administration.

The economy has dominated the election, even though there was a brief moment when it looked like the debate was about to be shifted to immigration and Islam following the Toulouse shootings.

It is the economy

Anne-Gaëlle Besse, a French journalist in the northern town of Denain – often dubbed “the poorest city in France”, said the election had forced people there to “take an interest”, given the dependence of their future on the outcome of the vote.

Besse said general media coverage had been based on “economics being the main issue, not security. And all those anti-Muslim declarations haven’t really worked”.

Liberation, days after the Toulouse shootings criticised Sarkozy initially for how he had “played the Muslim card on terror, halal meat and Hijabs” to appeal to Le Pen supporters.

“As we approach the 2012 presidential election, relations between Nicolas Sarkozy and the Muslim community continue to deteriorate, as Sarkozy aims to use ‘the Muslim issue’ as a vote grabbing exercise,” said Gaelle.

Sarkozy’s reported attempts to pick up far-right voters did not go unnoticed and attracted strong international criticism, with The Wall Street Journal calling him “Nicolas Le Pen“. Yet Sarkozy has not be allowed to steer the debate far from the economy, and that is where he hopes he can take on Hollande in the second round.

There seems to be a general consensus coming from French media that, unlike previous elections, there are many voters who still haven’t made up their mind who to vote for, or have confessed they simply won’t be coming out to vote in the first round.

Shaima Elbialy, a French journalist living in London, said the media and the candidates failed to attract people’s attention simply because real issues had hardly been tackled.

“Even the debates between candidates on TV have attracted fewer people … and in particular, young people,” said Elbialy.

Marianne, a weekly French news magazine, implied that none of the candidates had announced any solution to “real problems” that fuel so much anger among voters – hence a potential low first-round turnout.

A study carried out by polling agency IFOP for the education magazine L’Etudiant reported 59 per cent of voters aged 18 to 22 were still unsure of their choice, compared with 32 per cent of the French population at large.

An IFOP opinion poll for the Journal de Dimanche weekly newspaper also predicted some 32 per cent of eligible voters would abstain from voting in this round.

According to writer Eric Le Boucher in the financial newspaper Les Echos, it is “an election of illusions,” calling the campaign “an overwhelming disappointment”.

Even though Le Figaro is rooting for Sarkozy, it has also stated that undecided voters were hesitating between “the vote from the heart” for Mélenchon or Le-Pen and the “vote from reason” for Hollande or Sarkozy.

But it is difficult to see how Sarkozy can overturn the odds and defeat Hollande, despite tough talk on the economy and immigration. The Toulouse shootings briefly played in his favour as the security-conscious incumbent, but recent polls have again seen Hollande rise above him in first-round voting.

As a run-off between Hollande and Sarkozy looks likely in next month’s second round, it is expected that the French media, along with the rest of the nation, will have to take a deeper role in scrutinising, analysing and commenting on who they really want to govern them.

Follow Hasan Patel on Twitter: @hasanpatel




Book Review: Talk of the Devil

Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic (wife of Slobodan), all once leaders of countries who had fallen from grace through coups, revolutions or through the downfall of the Soviet Union’s patronage.

‘Talk of the Devil, encounters with seven dictators’ by the Italian journalist Riccardo Orizio shows how the end of the cold war had meant there was an increase of  a few out of job dictators who once reigned through the realms of fear.  Yet, after they were desposed of from power, they were now more focussed on satellites dishes in the case of Amin, or fighting legal issues, as was the case of some former Eastern European dictators.

Orizio shows how the likes of Bokassa, Mengistu and Jaruzelski had felt let down by the Soviet Union and in particular Mikhael Gorbachev. But he also created an understanding how these fallen leaders were so deluded in understanding the dynamics of the new world order and political status quo.

Jean-Claude Duvalier desposed of in Haiti, was perched in a Paris cafe with his European female companion and three chins lighter used his interview to show that his rule was one of compassion and in the interests of his people, but failed to acknowledge the murders and death squads under his rule. Duvalier, like all interviewed in the book showed his aloofness by saying ‘I had to do what I had for the interests of the country.’

Orizio shows through his journalism an insight into the minds of these people, but for Hoxha and Milosevic he adds in conversations and personal experiences of the victims and perpetrators of the regime in order to bring an understanding what life was really like in a post Hoxha Albania or why Bosnian Serbs acted with barbarism during the Bosnian war.

The comparisons from the book were also interesting. Each fallen leader apart from Amin were more interested in current affairs, rather than dream of going back home. Each leader, however blamed their enemies, foreign agents and former loved ones for their demise. Quotes such as  the “brutality of regime were invented by enemies, ” “people loved me,” or “I was brought down by treachery,”  and most common of all was the “country is  worse off now”.

Orizio provided a simple narrative adding with how his journey to meet some of the former despots included bribes, conversations with taxi drivers, a night in a police cell and countless visits to random homes.

Orizio painted a picture of their lives, how they had fallen from grace together with the many questions in their mind “if they only had stayed in power.”

Bokassa remembered when the Pope had proclaimed him as the 13th apostle and how he was the emperor of Central Africa, yet now he had to rely on his children. Mengistu in a funny incident he denied how he was a cannibal and that while living in Zimbabwe he wished he had a bigger home.

These once leaders who either were feared or loved showed how their rule, which was  connected with misery and terror were now living out their own lives in misery and in fear of death.

Overall a good book to read for those who may want to find out what had happened to Idi Amin, Jean Bedel Bokassa, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Mrs Hoxha, Baby Doc Duvalier, Colonel Mengistu and Mira Milosevic.

‘Pasty tax’ row heats up British PM

Al Jazeera

A British culinary staple finds itself at the centre of an unsavoury political row.

The prime minister claims to love them; his finance minister cannot remember the last time he had one, and the leader of the opposition prefers a sausage roll.

The hot snack in question is the pasty, a typically meat-filled pastry usually from the southwestern county of Cornwall, which has become an unlikely motif of popular dissent against budget proposals cooked up last week by George Osborne, the finance minister.

The introduction in last week’s budget of a 20 per cent sales tax on pasties and other hot foods sold by bakeries and supermarkets, now known as the, “pasty tax”, has prompted observations that proletarian foodstuffs have been targeted, while luxury edibles remain untouched.

“We now live in a country where caviar is untaxed and a hot pasty is .. go figure,” tweeted influential blogger Guido Fawkes.

Adding fuel to the fire, “Pastygate” is causing problems for David Cameron after the prime minister’s efforts to show how much he loved the pasty by recalling a large one he had eaten at Leeds railway station proved somewhat flaky.

When asked when he last had a pasty, Cameron said: “I think the last one I bought was from the West Cornwall Pasty Company.

“I seem to remember I was in Leeds station at the time and the choice was whether to have one of their small ones or one of their large ones. I have got a feeling I opted for the large one, and very good it was too.”

But the Daily Telegraph ran with the headline “Oh crumbs” after it emerged that the shop where Cameron claimed to have bought the pasty had closed in 2007.

‘Pork pie probe’

The Sun ran with the headline “PM pasty ‘pork pie’ probe,” and compared Osborne with Marie Antoinette, of “Let them eat cake” fame. The populist tabloid also offered readers a free pie, pasty or sausage roll, and urged them to protest at 1400 GMT by eating their pasty in public.

Even the Times could not resist a pun by running with a sketch headed: “Dave tries to play catch-up but it’s all pie in the sky as Mr Pasty tells a porky”, while the Guardian joined in as well asking “Who ate all the pies?”

“Pasty gate” blew up when Osborne, facing a grilling by a parliamentary committee on the decision to tax hot snacks, was asked when he had last visited Greggs, a popular high street bakery.

Osborne, who usually answers questions on fiscal stimuls or deficit reduction, looked out of his depth and said he could not recall.

Ken McMeikan, Greggs’ chief executive, warned that in current economic circumstances his company could be forced to cut jobs if pasty prices rise by 20 per cent, and attacked Osborne for being out of touch.

One tweet suggested that Osborne was probably subjected to a Treasury presentation where he was told that pasties were “similar to mini boeufs en croute,” referring to his priviliged background.

With petrol prices on the rise, causing last minute panic-buys at petrol forecourts in the UK, the Daily Mail attacked the government with the headline: “Petrol, pasties and the politics of panic.”

It said both Cameron and Osborne had conspired to plunge the government into a combination of high farce and panic.

As Cameron has been caught with a pasty in his mouth, the internet has gone viral with various humourous anecdotes to his love affair with the pasty.

The website www.cameronwithpasties.tumblr.com has created various pictures of Cameron holding, eating or even stroking a pasty.

Cornish backlash

In Cornwall, the Western Morning News, a regional newspaper, ran with the headline “Pasty battle,” and said the fight over Value Added Tax on its local product had turned personal.

Andrew George, a local member of parliament whose Liberal Democrat party is in coalition with Cameron’s Conservatives, said that Cornish people would “fight them on the beaches”.

“Pasties are not luxury food. It’s not like caviar or lobster sandwiches, which would be zero rated,” he said.

“For the chancellor to tell working Cornish folk that they can ‘eat their pasties cold’ fails to recognise the long tradition and how important this humble square meal is to working people in our country.”

Alex Folkes, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston Central, used social media tools by organising a Facebook campaign, called Stop the Pasty Tax, which already has 5,000 members.

“I’m not saying that the tax means nobody will ever buy a pasty again,” says Folkes. “It would mean some people buying hot pasties less often and that could lead to job losses.”

Ann Muller, a pasty shop owner, said the tax was “basically a tax on the working man of Britain”.

“My hot pasties would go up by 50 pence ($0.79) for some people, that will make a big difference. I’m planning to put a sign up in the window: ‘Hot for the rich, and cold for the poor.'”

Not be outdone by the public mood, Ed Miliband, the opposition Labour leader, showed his allegiance to heated pastry products by visiting a Greggs bakers in Redditch, Worcestershire, and buying eight sausage rolls.

Follow Hasan Patel on Twitter: @hasanpatel

Tareq Ayoub: a ‘martyr to the truth’

(Al Jazeera)  As American troops pull out of Iraq, Dima Tahboub, widow of Al Jazeera reporter killed in Baghdad, talks about her loss.

Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Ayoub was killed in Iraq when a United States air strike slammed into Al Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau on April 8, 2003. He had given a live report just moments before he died.

The 35-year-old Jordanian became the twelfth media worker to be killed in the Iraq conflict. He had been working for Al Jazeera for three years, normally as permanent correspondent in Amman, and had only been in Iraq for three days.

His wife Dima, with whom he had a one-year-old daughter named Fatima, was interviewed by Al Jazeera on the day Ayoub was killed. Dima, who lives in Jordan and teaches at the Arab Open University in Amman, said at the time: “Eventually everyone will forget him, but we will never forget him. He is with God now.”

She spoke to Al Jazeera’s Hasan Patel about how the war in Iraq meant the end of her young family.

Al Jazeera: Tareq was killed in Baghdad. Eight years on, what has his death meant for you?

Dima Tahboub: Tareq was killed on April 8, 2003, nine years next April. His death came as a shock for us all.

I understood Tareq was reporting a war. He had previously been to Iraq after the post-Gulf war siege and he had covered a lot of demonstrations against the war in Jordan, [he was] even arrested and taken to jail.

Iraq was just another phase in his career. I personally thought journalists and reporters came in and out of Iraq. In a conflict [I thought] nobody in their right mind would think of harming journalists. I was wrong, nobody but the USA harms or kill journalists.

Tareq’s death meant an end to our young family. We were married for three years and had Fatima, our daughter. I became a widow at the age of 27; Fatima, an orphan at the age of one year and four months. A most beloved husband, father and son had been lost for good.

AJ: How did his death impact his family and friends?

DT: As soon as the news of his death came, the concern for the family was to bring his body home. We were to see him for the last time before his burial and to rest him near us in his country where we could visit his grave regularly.

It has now been eight years since Tareq was killed, and, to be honest, the extended family has not been the same.

Both his parents mourn their son. Their health [has] deteriorated tremendously, mainly due to the sadness and [the] void Tareq’s death has left in their lives. My mother-in-law has lost all stamina and motivation for life.

My daughter has had to create an image of a father she barely remembers out of pictures and videos. For a short duration, I even left Jordan for Britain, to take up further studies, but the truth of it was I had fled in the hope to [end] my grief instead.

AJ: On the day of Tareq’s death, some media outlets described the attack on the Al Jazeera offices in Baghdad as intentional. Have you received any official explanation about what happened that day?


DT: Officially, nothing was told to me. I have just had to rely on accounts from eyewitnesses and from Al Jazeera staff who gave recollections to me and proved that the attack was intentional.

[The] truth came out through information being presented to me from stories published in the media.

In terms of bringing those responsible to justice, a lawyer was appointed to work with myself and some Iraqi families who had lost people in the war.

We looked at options to bring those responsible to justice. Our lawyers had researched how, in Belgium, there was a law which allowed victims of unjust killings in war to lodge a prosecution [against] anyone who gave orders which resulted in the death of innocent people.

No sooner did we try and raise a case through the Belgian courts, [but] the law was amended to prevent the prosecution of heads of states and officials who then gave immunity to soldiers and army personnel who had acted upon orders.

In Jordan, there is no hope at all to gain justice from international criminals. The legal system doesn’t function properly to even attempt an international case.

AJ: What does the loss of Tareq’s life mean for you in the context of the war in Iraq?

DT: The day Tareq died was another nail in the coffin of the catastrophe for the Arabs with the fall and occupation of Iraq.

Baghdad was once a beacon of Arab civilisation and history, but in the past hundred years, things had changed from bad to worse.

Iraq [after] being enslaved by Saddam’s tyranny, had become enslaved by [the] international tyranny, mastered by the USA and sustained by the spread of terror, fear, sectarian violence and the ongoing theft of Iraq’s natural resources.

Tareq’s death was one of many losses, but his death received international attention because of his job. Yet, let us not forget the death of the thousands of Iraqis who also were killed; nobody remembers them. As the occupation ends, the rising death toll of Iraqis isn’t ending.

AJ: What do you tell people about Tareq’s contribution to the coverage of Iraq?

DT: Thankfully, I don’t have to remind anyone anything about what Tareq did.


He had spent three days in Iraq, preparing four reports and countless live coverage [spots], he even gave a live report moments before he was killed.

People will always remember Tareq as a martyr to truth, but I still would have had him remain alive, reporting the truth.

AJ: Was Tareq, in your eyes, a victim of the war in Iraq?

DT: Yes, but he is one of many, as all of Iraq has been victimised by this war.

AJ: What do you tell your daughter Fatima when she asks about her father?

DT: Raising Fatima is a labour of love; a continuous regeneration of Tareq’s memory, in my life and hers.

She was very young when her father was killed, so she doesn’t remember him. We’ve had to construct his image, personality and life from the beginning to the end.

Through pictures, videos and images, we have created an impression for Fatima to know her father. But nothing would compensate for the actual presence of her father in her everyday life.

Tareq was not there to accompany Fatima to her first day at school. Sadly, he will not be there to attend her birthdays, graduation ceremonies, or give her hand away in marriage.

I am raising my daughter to follow in the footsteps of her father in the way he would have wanted, and to allow her the opportunities to achieve her ambitions and dreams.

I also want to ensure Fatima grows up to never forget or forgive those who had deprived her of her right of having a father. Tareq was killed in an unjust way, whose death sadly, eight years on, still lingers in my mind – because his killers are still not brought to justice.