Deeyah Khan

AND THE NOMINEES FOR THE 15th ASIAN ACHIEVERS AWARDS ARE ...Deeyah Khan (1977-) is a Norwegian- born Emmy-award winning filmmaker, musician and human rights activist based in the UK. Her documentaries seek to understand people on the political extremes and explore the issues of feminism, toxic masculinity, racism, islamaphobia and Islamist extremism.

As of May 2019 she has five films:

  • Banaz A Love Story (2012): about a British Kurdish woman, who was a victim of an ‘honour killing’ ordained by her own family.
  • Jihad: A Story of Others (2015): about Jihadi radicalisation in the UK
  • Islam’s Non-Believers (2016): about ex-Muslim atheists
  • White Right: Meeting the Enemy (2017): about white supremacists in the USA

Deeyah Khan was born in Oslo to an Afghan mother and Pakistani father. She grew up in a secular household where talks of art, politics and philosophy were common.  As a girl, her father lectured her that sport and the arts were the only fields someone like her could transcend prejudice. He consequently enrolled Deeyah in keyboard and singing lessons with a world class Pakistani musician. By seven she was performing on Norwegian TV.

As a teen pop star and ‘mascot for multicultural Norway’, Deeyah Khan was targeted by both racist Norwegians and conservative Muslims who deemed music ‘an immoral and dishonorable profession’ for women.  At 17 she fled to London after being attacked on stage. Khan released her last album in 2007 and began teaching herself filmography.

In Jihad, Khan speaks to former and current Islamist extremists in Britain. According to Abu Muntasir, the ‘godfather’ of British Jihad and a veteran of Afghanistan, Kashmir and Burma, recruiters specifically target vulnerable young men to radicalise. For young western Muslims caught between two worlds and struggling with self-confidence, loneliness and identity, the brotherhood and purpose offered by Jihad, not to mention the promise of eternity in paradise, is an alluring prospect.  ‘My gun’ a former Jihadi states, ‘is more or less just a penis extension’.

When Deeyah Khan asks Abu Muntasir if he has forgiven himself for his violent past he breaks down into tears and eventually responds, ‘how do you answer that?’

White Right covers white nationalists in the modern USA. In 2017 Deeyah Khan shadowed Jeff Schoeb, leader of the National Socialist Movement (NSM), America’s largest neo-Nazi group, and accompanied him on a nine-hour car journey from Detroit to Charlottesvile. The men Deeyah meets, a startling proportion of whom are veterans, exhibit a combination of ‘big egos and low self-esteem’ like those in Jihad.

Deeyah does not berate the hateful men she feared all her life but catches them off guard with questions about their upbringing, hopes and dreams and finds common ground on topics beyond politics. Alt-right leaders Jared Taylor and Richard Spencer, however, who are wealthier, better spoken and more remorseless than their working class counterparts, seem immune to Deeyah’s empathetic approach.

Many of the subjects admit they had never met a Muslim before Deeyah and come to consider her a friend. She still corresponds with both Jeff Schoep and Abu Muntasir.

“All the work I do is about recognising ourselves in each other… to locate the humanity in someone else … As a woman of colour, as the long laundry list of things I consider myself to be, I know it feels like to be stereotyped, I know what it’s like to be dehumanised and because of that I refuse to do that to someone else, even if that means a Nazi.”

In January 2019, Schoep passed the NSM’s leadership to James Hart Stern, a black activist who is dismantling the group.

Sources: Associated Press, the Guardian, the Gentlewomen, Making Sense with Sam Harris Episode 144, Under the Skin with Russell Brand Episode 52.

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The Christchurch Mosque Shooting

Image result for christchurch mosque shootingOn Friday 15th March a gunman opened fire on worshipers in the al-Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, New Zealand during midday prayers.  49 were killed, including children, and 20 seriously injured. Shooter Brenton Tarrant livestreamed the massacre on Facebook using a go-pro and posted the link to 8chan before the attack. His 74 page manifesto detailed his desire to kill Muslims in western countries and restore white supremacy.

Azam Ali, a victim, told Radio New Zealand:

“We were into 10 minutes of our prayers and then we heard gun shots outside, but kept on praying. Next minute, it was inside. He was a light-coloured skin guy and he started firing and we all went for cover….. A couple of guys from inside probably ran outside and they all came out in blood. When we got up we saw people lying around us [who] were shot. They had blood coming out, some from the neck.”

There were 300 people in the al-Noor Mosque. Trapped in the mosque and at the mercy of the shooter, many worshipers smashed through glass doors and windows to escape. During the massacre the shooter swapped weapons and changed his magazine seven times. Teacher Naeem Rachid heroically charged at the gunman but was killed alongside his son Talha.

After al-Noor Tarrant drove to the Linwood Islamic Centre five kilometres away. He killed seven people before a worshiper disarmed him. Tarrant escaped the scene but police apprehended him and put the city on lockdown. Over 40 people were admitted to hospital.

Image result for christchurch mosque shooting

Christchurch is the third biggest city in New Zealand and home to 404,000 people. 0.8% of the city’s population are Muslim, out of 1.2% nationwide. The shooter chose Christchurch because the city would be defenseless and unprepared; he wanted to prove ‘nowhere in the world was safe’.

Brenton Tarrant is a 28 year old Australian former cryptocurrency investor and personal trainer. According to his manifesto he was a ‘just a regular White man from a regular family’ and a former ‘communist and anarchist’. He became radicalised while travelling Europe in 2017 and was active on alt-right and white supremacist internet forums.

Image result for christchurch shooter

Tarrant’s manifesto expressed concern with high Muslim fertility rates, Islamic terrorism and the white genocide conspiracy theory. Identifying as an ‘Eco fascist’, he employed a bizarre mix of environmentalist, anti-capitalist, white nationalist, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

His inspirations included Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, British fascist Oswald Mosely, Serb war criminal Radovan Karadzic, American conservative Candance Owens (probably ironically – he claimed her views were more extreme than his own) and the People’s Republic of China. Tarrant claimed to admire Donald Trump ‘as a symbol for white identity and common purpose’ but not ‘for his policies and as a leader’. He did not express allegiance to any specific organisation but said he supported many.

Tarrant’s goals were to make Muslims feel unsafe in the West and spark a civil war in the United States over the Second Amendment. He repeatedly referred to Muslims as ‘invaders’ and planned the massacre two years in advance.

Until yesterday New Zealand was a safe country relatively untouched by the terrorism and divisive politics which afflict the western world. Since 1945 the country’s worst mass shooting had been the 1990 Aramoana Shooting that killed 14 people. New Zealand has never before experienced a hate crime or act of terrorism of this level. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the Christchurch shooting ‘New Zealand’s darkest day’.  49 died, the same number who fell in the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the modern USA’s second worst.

Mosque attendees in Hagley Park after shooting.

New Zealand gun laws are stricter than the United States. Firearms are legal for the purpose of hunting and users must pass interviews and background checks to gain their license. As a small island nation with few people, gun laws are comparatively easy to enforce. Once purchased, however, few firearms are registered. Tarrant used a shotgun and a semiautomatic AR-15, held a license and was a member of a local shooting club. The shooter was not known to police or intelligence agencies beforehand. Ardern has since promised to ban semiautomatic weapons.

Aside from Raeem and Talha Rachid, victims’ names are yet to be confirmed.

Sources: BBC, the Guardian, New Zealand Herald, Radio New Zealand, Reuters, Stuff, Sydney Morning Herald, Tarrant’s Manifesto 

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Update 17/03/19: 50 confirmed dead, victims’ names released

2018: Western Powers Bomb Syria

Map 1853The press and social media is aflame this week over the joint surgical strike by 105 American, British and French missiles against chemical weapon facilities in Syria.  The attack was a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Assad regime 9 days earlier, which violated international law and crossed the ‘red line’ set by Obama five years ago and by Emmanuel Macron in 2017.

The move is most controversial in the US. Donald Trump ordered the strike without congressional approval, which is technically unconstitutional, and alienated elements of his support base. Curiously both political opposition and support for the strikes crosses the partisan line.

syrian missile.jpgThe official narrative: On 7th April 2018 Syrian government forces broke international law by attacking the rebel held city of Douma with chemical nerve agents, killing 70 and injuring 500.  Videos circulated of men, women and children clutching gas masks in makeshift hospitals and foaming at the mouth.  The US state department confirmed the attack was real and Assad was responsible.

According to Russia and Assad the gas attack was a false flag operation by the Army of Islam, who holds Douma, and the White Helmets, volunteers who assist civilians in rebel territory. This was to provoke retaliation by the West against Assad, which worked as a charm. Note this narrative does not deny that chemical weapons were used.

Conspiracy theorists and the fringe media paint the attack as a text book false flag operation to justify intervention in Syria as was done in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Vietnam etc. This view is shared by far right personalities like Alex Jones, hacktivist group Anonymous and innumerable posts on my newfeed.

Whether or not the gas attack did happen, or Assad was responsible, critics fear the strike could further entangle the US in Syria or, worse still, risk open war with nuclear armed Russia and Iran. The doomsday bells are ringing.

That said, the strike is restrained, and aligns with US policy. Despite Trump’s claims of ‘mission accomplished’, the mission was ultimately little more than a show of force. The Pentagon admitted it will unlikely deter future chemical attacks, while Syrian rebel groups criticised the strike as ultimately ineffective. There were no reported casualties.

The following spoke in support of the missile strike:

  • Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
  • Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister
  • Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President
  • Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, Saudi King
  • Tayip Erdogan, Turkish President
  • Jens Stoltenburg, Nato Secretary General
  • Jean-Claude Juncker, European Union President
  • John McCain, Republican Senator
  • Elizabeth Wahren, Democrat Senator

The following spoke against:

  •  Vladimir Putin, Russian President
  • Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, Iranian Supreme Leader
  • War Media Channel, Hezbollah
  • Jeremy Corbyn, British Labour Party leader
  • Marine Le Penn, French National Front leader
  • Cenk Uyghur, The Young Turks
  • Anonymous
  • Tucker Carlson, Fox News
  • Tomi Lahren, Great America PAC, Fox News
  • Alex Jones, Infowars
  • Mike Cervnovich, Danger & Play

Image result for syria missile strike map 2018

The strike is an indicator of the Trump Administration’s move from the America First support base which brought him to power. Just as Obama promised to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008, Trump promised to cooperate with Vladimir Putin over Syria and limit involvement to combatting ISIS instead of the Assad regime. Whilst his administration refrains from the no fly zone promised by the hawkish Hillary Clinton, the move seems out of touch with Trump’s anti-interventionist campaign rhetoric and particularly his earlier criticisms of Obama.

The alt right blogosphere in particular, who normally stand by Trump’s every action, has lost faith in their hero.

This has happened before: Assad was previously accused of gassing civilians in Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun one year ago. The US responded to Khan Sheikhoun with a missile attack at weapon facilities in Sharyat. Although a few more missiles were fired this April so far the result has been little different than it was last year, except less people were killed. That strike was the first notable rift between the alt right support base and establishment Republicans, as represented by Steve Bannon and the ‘globalist’ Jared Kushner. Bannon has since been fired.

The US has admitted removing Assad from power is not on their agenda anymore. If the powers that be truly wished to instigate WW3, their response to the Douma attack would have been swifter and more aggressive. Given what happened last year, as it stands we are hardly at the brink of Armageddon.

Sources: BBC, CNN, Fox News, New York Times, Haaretz, Al Jazeera, Sputnik, The Guardian, The Independent, The Atlantic, Young Turks

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One Month On: Assessing Charlottesville

Charlootesville rally

It’s been a month since the Charlottesville Riot. On August 12th, supposedly protesting the planned removal of a Robert E Lee statue, hundreds descended on the town in a torch lit rally, displaying an array of white nationalist insignia including swastikas. Chants included the Nazi maxim ‘Blood and Soil’, ‘White Lives Matter’ and ‘Jews will not replace us’. They clashed with counter protesters the next day, resulting in one death and multiple injuries.

‘The Unite the Right’ rally was, truthfully, a ‘Unite the Far Right’ rally. All the white supremacist groups coalesced: klansmen, neo-Nazis, neo-confederates and, most notably, adherents of the burgeoning alt right movement.

Only one particular cohort seemed missing – skinheads. The eponymous hairdo and doc martins, it seems, have been replaced by the khakis and white polos of the new generation’s racists. Skinheads, as a distinct subculture, have largely died out, succeeded by the far more savvy and successful alt right, a movement of unprecedented growth, owing  to its ‘softened’ and intellectualised image.

The Charlottesville rally showed their strength – these were not merely keyboard warriors, but a numerous and organised movement, capable of putting boots on the ground.

I argue the march backfired.

Charlottesville Lee Statue

The statue that started it all, in Lee Park, Charlottesville Virginia. Soon to be removed.

Lee Statues: Charlottesville prompted the immediate removal of the Lee statue, along with confederate monuments across the US.

  • August 15th: Demonstrators illegally remove the courthouse Confederate Soldiers Monument in Durham, North Carolina.
  • August 16th: Baltimore authorities remove the city’s Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee Statues.
  • August 19th: The Lee monument at Duke University is removed.
  • September 18th: Dallas removes the Lee Statue in the city park.

The removal of confederate monuments in the south was already a growing trend in 2017. The ugly display of hate at Charlottesville only quickened the pace by authorities all too eager to distance themselves from the Old South’s white supremacist legacy.

Alt right

Charlottesville protesters posing for a photo

Alt Right: At Charlottesville the alt right’s careful cultivation of a refined, accessible white nationalist movement was decimated. The Nazi imagery, the violence and Heather Heyer’s murder showed the movement’s true colours (or at least that off its extremist wing). These were not simple patriots espousing positive white identity but bigots of a familiar stripe, whose message is little different from the neo-Nazis they marched alongside.

Public opinion has hardened against the alt right. Whilst the media’s reaction may strengthen their core, few wish to associate with hard-core racists and neo-Nazis. The Charlotesville protesters was widely condemned; by religious leaders, celebrities, politicians, even Angela Merkel. Anti-fascist rallies followed in Berkley, Brooklyn, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Daily Stormer and the Right Stuff, pages representing the alt right’s extremist wing, have since been exiled to the dark web. A follow up ‘free speech’ rally in Boston was inundated by counter protesters.

Donald Trump – After the death of Heather Heyer and President Trump’s ‘many sides’ comments, the media had a field day. Trump received the most flak since last’s years ‘pussygate’ scandal. His manufacturing council dissolved and Steve Bannon – Trump’s link to the alt right, resigned.  Pundits were quick to note the marchers’ approval of Trump’s words.

Donald Trump is incapable of denouncing anyone who praises him (Trump-Pence signs appeared at the rally), or hiding his true feelings, so his comments were not surprising. Nevertheless, the president has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a bed of nails; his response to Charlottesville march will ultimately blow over.

One month on, the shock reaction and public frenzy to the march has died down. Many quietly agree that both sides were to blame, especially given Antifa’s dubious and violent track record.  Counter protesters may have started the violence, it is true, but when one side’s ranks espouse a genocidal ideology and the other merely react, recognising the greater evil should not be difficult.

What will come of the alt right, and their bubbling anger, remains to be seen.

Donald Trump,