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Freedom of Speech: Lessons to Teach, Lessons to Learn

As an ex pupil, when I read about Batley Grammar School taking centre stage in a recent debate regarding freedom of speech, I was horrified, yet sadly unsurprised.

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As a proud Yorkshireman, the powerful words of the 19th century poet and artist William Blake in his poem “Jerusalem” have always struck a strange resonance with me.

“I will not cease from Mental Fight,

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:

Till we have built Jerusalem,

In England’s green & pleasant Land.”

Yet growing up around the picturesque, rolling hills of West Yorkshire, I came to recognise the truth of the “green and pleasant land”.

For although the beautiful hills and dales may invoke dreams of a lost Eden from afar, up close, the deprived post-industrial landscape of the former mill towns of Batley and Dewsbury are a far cry from any evocation of a “Jerusalem” (literally “land of peace”).

I vividly remember the first few months of 1989. I was attending Batley Grammar school, a place of education founded 200 years before William Blake was born. But what stands out about those days of my formative education is not the smell of chemistry lessons in the science block or even the particular misery of being made to complete the “10 minute” run up and down the fields behind the school. For me, what stands out, all these years later, is the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s book “The Satanic Verses”, and the lessons that it taught me.

I remember at the time, not having much of a clue what the controversy was about other than the fact that some clearly loony mullahs in Bradford had decided to burn the book and that Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran had issued a ‘fatwa’ calling for the author to be killed. I was also vaguely aware that the book was offensive to Muslims in some way.

I was the only Muslim in my class and so after the Rushdie incident had taken place, I became the focus point of a torrent of ugly racism and Islamophobia. I was insulted, called names and accused of being part of a religion of hate. People told me that being a Muslim dictated that I wanted Salman Rushdie dead,  that the lies in the book were true and that my religion was without doubt, both bigoted and evil.

But being raised a Muslim I didn’t recognise any of that. I had been taught never to slander another’s religion or religious beliefs and certainly not to hate them for it. My Islam taught tolerance and mutual respect.

When I finally came to understand what the Satanic Verses had set out to do – essentially insult Islam and defame a religious founder in the name of ‘freedom of speech’, I was both sickened and offended but realised that the correct and indeed most effective response was not in retaliation or bloodshed, rather dialogue, education and demonstrating what I believed in by my own personal example.

But on that day, I also learnt a powerful lesson- that grievous things are often justified in the name of “free speech” and that it is often the most marginalised in society that directly suffer as a result.

This question of the limits of free speech has come up for debate many times in the last few years. The argument goes – ‘curtailing free speech means curtailing democracy and the freedoms it is built on’, and of course when put this way it makes complete sense. My freedom to express an opinion, to call out a wrong, to speak up for injustice, to advocate for the underprivileged and to engage in debate on the right way to advance society is a critical human and civil right, as is the freedom to express one’s religious beliefs. But with every right comes a heavy responsibility, a fundamental necessity to be civil in our discourse, not to insult just because we can and in doing so trample on the rights and sensitivities of others.

Put simply. If we wish to live in a peaceful and harmonious society, we must ensure that our actions and words are conducive to mutual respect and tolerance. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we must.

The last time Batley made the national headlines was when MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in the run up to the vote on Brexit.

The debate around Brexit had turned ugly, with a thick and unpleasant anti-immigrant seam running through it and it was this ugliness that led to a far-right fascist murdering Jo – an MP who stood for diversity and bringing communities together. It was un-civil discourse and the smearing of communities and minorities that led to that hateful incident.

Which brings us to today and the sad, unfortunate incident at my old school, Batley Grammar, where a religious studies teacher showed his pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in order to illustrate a point about blasphemy.

To a Muslim, any depiction of the Founder of Islam is unacceptable and insulting, and yet the most recent depictions of the Prophet of Islam in cartoon form have been deliberately insulting and demeaning of his status. For any Muslim, to be shown an image like that is a cause of great anguish, but to be shown an image like that by a teacher, a person in a position of power and privilege is even more hurtful and damaging.

Batley and Dewsbury have large populations of second and now third generation Muslims with historic links to India and Pakistan. Batley Grammar school now has many more Muslims attending its lessons then when I was there. It is sad to think that a teacher could be either wilfully malicious or deliberately ignorant of the offence displaying a picture like that would generate.

As a Muslim and an old Batelian I have to say the matter should now rest with both the school and teacher offering an apology, but there is no doubt a deeper issue at stake here which cannot simply be overlooked with such a carefree ‘offend, then take down’ policy.

We live in a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic country, the parents and grandparents of those second and third generation immigrants came to this country in the 60’s when this country needed them to fill the labour gap in the faltering textile industries. They worked in poor conditions for little pay but for many of them their children and grandchildren have done well, and this is their reward. They have made a home in this country and worked hard to make a living and to support the development this country needed. They deserve to be treated with respect, they don’t deserve to have their religion insulted and their religious figures disrespected.

This form of free speech doesn’t further society, it creates wounds in its fabric and dissension amongst its people. It doesn’t further and strengthen democracy, it weakens and demeans it. If we want to build “Jerusalem” in this “green and pleasant land” we must start with the fundamental building blocks of mutual respect and kindness.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Dr Hammad Khan is a consultant neonatologist specialising in cardiovascular care of the newborn infant as well as a media commentator and broadcaster on multiple platforms.

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1 Comment

  1. Asma M

    26 March 2021 at 10:34 pm

    Thank you so much for reflecting our thoughts so well. I fail to understand why marginalizing communities based on their religious faith is “freedom of speech” for some; yet voicing the displeasure at direct or indirect attacks on Muslim holy figures make us regressive and uncivil.

    To form a cohesive society and caring communities for our next generations, we need to teach love, care and inclusiveness because that’s the only way to move forward. I hope school takes a more stern approach towards this act and become an embodiment of positive nurturing.

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The United Kingdom faces food and labor shortages due to Covid-19

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Around 50,000 new cases are discovered every day in the UK, and a new NHS Test and Trace programme sends out “pings” to those who have been in close contact with an infected individual, prompting the situation to be labelled a “pingdemic.” Around 520,000 people have been notified since 1st July. With new Coronavirus cases approaching 50,000 per day — the highest rate of infection since January — and hundreds of thousands more people being told to isolate by the app, businesses are urging the government to loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated people much sooner than next month.

The app is designed to notify people who have had close contact with infected people and advise them to self-quarantine for 10 days. The government claims it is not compulsory, but it is urging people to comply.

This is directly impacting the food and gas industries. As numbers of individuals increase, a shortage of staff in the food and retail industries is dragging on the economy. Major supermarket chains and other industries are also facing an employment shortage, forcing some to close temporarily.

According to official data released on Thursday, nearly 620,000 people in England and Wales were advised to isolate in the week leading up to 14th July, with the vast majority living in England. This came after just one day after a meat industry body warned that Britain’s food supply chains are “right on the edge of failing”.

BP, a British oil and gas company, declared that it is experiencing fuel shortages and will be temporarily closing a number of sites. The company attributed the fault to the truck drivers shortages caused by workers staying at home due to Covid-19.

The oil industry said that due to a lack of unleaded gasoline and diesel, a “handful” of its UK facilities had to close temporarily. BP stated that the closure of distribution is terminal, due to staff being told to isolate last week. They said: “Our supply chain has been impacted by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK, and was exacerbated by the temporary closure of our Hemel Hempstead fuel distribution terminal last week because of necessary Covid-19 isolations amongst staff. The terminal is now operating as normal once again.”

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Malaysia plunges into deeper crisis as residents hoist white flag for help

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When the first wave of Covid-19 hit the region, the Malaysian government’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus was lauded on a global scale. But with the advent of the third wave, things began to look bleak, especially for the economically vulnerable population of the country. 

As the entire nation went into the third movement control order (MCO) which later transitioned into a full lockdown in June, several thousand small businesses faced the threat of total shut down. The situation, exacerbated by vague communication from leaders and uncertainty on the vaccine rollout, led to a large group of Malaysians being unofficially declared as ‘Malaysia’s new poor’

Whilst rates of unemployment rose, people found themselves struggling for basic necessities. Most families had exhausted their savings in the first and second MCOs, and were completely unprepared for what was to come. In a state of helplessness, many were forced to put up a white flag outside their homes, signifying a cry for help. 

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2021/07/01/businesses-pledge-support-for-white-flag-campaign 

While help did come, it came from unexpected sources. Locals took it upon themselves to help the ones in need by opening several foodbanks, delivering groceries, purchasing from small, home-based businesses to keep them running. A host of companies, NGOs and welfare organisations soon joined them to mitigate scarcity. The white flag campaign – otherwise known as #BenderaPutih on social media – gained recognition quickly. 

People’s aggravation and frustration has been inflamed by the silence of the government. Although the infection rates are not as high as neighbouring country Indonesia, the repercussions of the slow national vaccination program are far-reaching; the effects mirrored by the constantly rising cases despite stringent control measures.  Malaysia has procured large doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, and is beginning to get its hands on more Sinovac doses as well. But only about 12.4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, as of 16th July 2021.  In this absurd state of affairs, citizens are rightly demanding accountability. 

If the circumstances weren’t dire enough, the political blame game being played by the ruling coalition, Perikatan Nasional (PN) and opposition parties has only fuelled the anger further. Leaders of PN have called the white flag movement  “political propaganda” and have asked Malaysians “not to admit defeat”.  What they fail to realise is that this crisis has already spread far beyond the scope of public understanding and patience. 

The Prime Minister Tan Sri Dato’ Muhyiddin Yassin announced on 27th June – which was supposed to be the end of the full lockdown – that it will be extended for an unspecified amount of time until daily cases fall below 4,000. In addition, he declared provision of funds to help relief measures in low-income households. However, the statement does not dispel the despondency of the people, as the first tranches of monetary aid will not be disbursed until August. 

In an ironic twist, this June the World Bank released its report on the Malaysian economic monitor, declaring that the economy was expected to rise by 4.5% this year. A lot of it attributed to increasing exports which have expanded by 18.2%. This begs the question  –  why was one sector of the economy impacted in such a destructive way while the other continued to thrive during the same period of the pandemic? This disparity sparks controversial opinions about the government’s inability to protect the internal economy. The current condition does not only underscore the existing gaps, but further worsens it for the sector that was already at risk of collapsing before Covid, leaving families distressed, starved and foraging for answers. 

As Muslims around the world welcome Eid-ul-Adha, for Malaysians, desperation is the predominant flavour this year in this festive celebration. The government’s Covid exit plan that was built on predictions of lowering cases below a significant level by the end of the year looks, at best, improbable if not impossible. The vaccination program is picking up pace, and the ministry of health is doubling up on attempts to restore public faith. How that affects the economic developments in the coming months remains to be seen.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Lebanon close to trying political figures for Beirut explosion

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In August 2020, an explosion in Beirut killed over 200 individuals and injured over 5,000 more. Hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate explosives were stored in a hazardous manner, causing the explosion. At the time, no one had officially claimed responsibility for the blast or explained how a stockpile of explosives had been left unattended in the Beirut harbour for six years.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab pledged a thorough inquiry, but the case had fallen to a 60-year-old judge, with a low public reputation, Fadi Sawan. As the investigation progressed, Judge Sawan was forced to confront a number of prominent figures, confirming that a handful of officials had been notified about the ammonium nitrate but had failed to have it removed or protected.

The political establishment was outraged by Judge Sawan’s verdict by charging four powerful politicians with criminal neglect causing death. The list of those being tried is as follows: caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, former Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, former Public Works Ministers Ghazi Zeiter and Youssef Finianos, and former Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk.

After a plea from two of the former ministers he charged, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, a Lebanese court decided to remove Judge Fadi Sawan from the case as he was getting closer to obtaining justice. This shows that, although being on the correct track, Sawan’s mission to obtain justice was cut short by the higher power.

After Sawan being replaced by Judge Tarek Bitar in this investigation, Bitar requested for the lifting of immunity for numerous political figures and former and current security personnel so that he can prosecute them for criminal negligence and homicide with proven intent in connection with the blast.

A judicial source told Al Jazeera that parliament will most likely vote to transfer the case to the Supreme Council but said that legislators could impede the next step, which would require two-thirds of Parliament to vote for the Supreme Council to summon them.

“It’s clear that this is an attempt to obliterate the investigation,” the source said.

Families of the victims have expressed their indignation at the fact that the case’s result is now determined by the Supreme Council’s vote. “We totally reject and condemn this cover-up of the crime of the century,” Mahdi Zahreldine, 21, whose brother Imad was killed in the blast, told Al Jazeera.

However, as a source said, “Judge Tarek Bitar will not stay silent about this.” There is still hope that justice will be served.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Spy software “Pegasus” accused of targeting world leaders

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Pegasus is software that was developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm, to act as spyware. It was developed by the NSO Group and can be installed on mobile phones, of both iOS and Android. Recently it has been accused of spying on journalists, activists, and even world leaders. Knowing how advanced today’s technology is, it is not that far-fetched of an accusation.

The NSO Group behind this spyware has, however, denied the accusations and claim that they only target extreme terrorists and serious criminals. Spying through a person’s phone is a very easy thing nowadays, and almost every government has the ability to do so. Moreover, Israel has always been a country with a lot of cyber-power and strong surveillance capabilities. This, of course, doesn’t immediately mean that they are spying on everyone, although there has been proof of Pegasus targeting 15 world leaders from around the world. Some of the known targets of this spyware are the French President Emmanuel Macron, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, Imran Khan of Pakistan, Saad Eddine El Othmani of Morocco, and Mustafa Madbouly of Egypt. The world leaders have denied access to their mobile phones for forensic testing to be sure of this breach, but there have been signs of a breach or attempted infection on up to 37 mobile phones.

Secretary General of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, stated that “The unprecedented revelation should send a chill down the spine of world leaders”. There could be many lawsuits and potential charges for the NSO Group by many powerful people – such as Facebook for targeting the WhatsApp application if these claims are proved right. The clients with the largest share of information from the NSO Group list includes Mexico and the Middle East. The people that the NSO Group hacked were not all politicians – as even the members of the royal family, human rights activists, and business executives were included. The NSO Group has already been under scrutiny once in 2016, for their incredible spyware technology and, since then, many people have accused Pegasus of targeting mainly journalists and activists from around the world. Although, only recently were these accusations against Pegasus taken seriously.

If the accusations are true, then this is a serious breach of privacy. Not only can anyone be spied upon very easily as we humans are now dependant on mobile phones with all our personal information but this also means that anyone can be a spy with little to no effort. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Presidential elections in Peru won by a left-wing former teacher

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Pedro Castillo, who is a 51-year-old former teacher, won the election in Peru. This left-wing teacher was used to teach elementary school children in the poor Andean region. He won the election after a long wait of more than a month as his opposite right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori alleged electoral fraud. Most people who voted for Castillo were from the poorer and the rural areas.

Castillo won the election on Monday, by just 44,000 votes, and in a turn of events, his rival Fujimori has now been accused of corruption and therefore can be charged. The Elections Chief, Jorge Salas stated: “I proclaim Pedro Castillo as president of the republic and Dina Boluarte as first vice president”, on Monday night in a television ceremony. After hearing this news, the right-wing candidate, Keiko agreed to recognise the result of the presidential election, “because it is what the law and the constitution that I have sworn to defend, mandates. The truth is going to come out anyway”.

On the other hand, the newly elected President of Peru addressed his gathered supporters, saying “Dear compatriots, I bring here an open heart for each and every one of you” in his headquarters of Peru Libre. Castillo’s victory, announced at a virtual ceremony, was celebrated by hundreds of supporters who had spent weeks outside the JNE headquarters to support him. In addition to that, one of his 27-year-old supporters, Rosa Huaman chanted “finally, we have a president” while the crowd roared in agreement. Castillo, who has now an immense support group, will be sworn in on 28th July. Moreover, Castillo is the first left-wing president elected in more than a generation, along with being the first president who lived most of his life as a ‘peasant’.

Although his electoral victory has greatly divided the country, he still promises to have greater outcomes for people in poverty which has become a huge issue in Peru, especially due to Covid-19. However, Castillo, who once pledged to redraft the constitution and hike taxes on mining farms has now softened his rhetoric and wants a more moderate approach. While the presidential election’s left-wing candidate, Fujimori, still firmly believes that the votes were won through fraud.

Lastly, huge congratulations to the new president of Peru, Pedro Castillo and let’s hope that he keeps his promise to help the poor people in Peru. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Spyware used to monitor thousands of phones, including Khashoggi’s wife

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An investigation into a major data breach has led to a discovery of authoritarian governments targeting high profile individuals such as human rights activists, politicians, journalists and the wife of the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It is done using a hacking software which has been created and sold by none other than the NSO spy group of the Israeli government. 

Pegasus is known to be the most dangerous military grade spyware ever developed. It has been licenced to several governments across the globe to track terrorists and criminals. Further, it was namely successful in hacking 37 smartphones from a list of 50,000 numbers, amongst which Hanan Elatr, the wife of Jamal Khashoggi was included. 

Throughout the time period in which Elatr and Khashoggi were speaking and meeting up at various locations, it is determined that Pegasus was keeping track of all their movements. In an interview with the Washington Post, Elatr mentioned regarding Pegasus that “It makes me believe they are aware of everything that happened to Jamal through me.”

The Washington Post confirms that over 1,000 people on the list were identified “spanning more than 50 countries through research and interviews on four continents: several Arab royal family members, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists, 189 journalists, and more than 600 politicians and government officials — including cabinet ministers, diplomats, and military and security officers. The numbers of several heads of state and prime ministers also appeared on the list.”

There is no way of being able to identify who created this list, who added these numbers to the list and why. However, this Pegasus can be installed into Android and iOS remotely. ”Pegasus infections can be achieved through so-called “zero-click” attacks, which do not require any interaction from the phone’s owner in order to succeed.” This malware can convert your phone into a real time surveillance device which can retrieve copies of all your communication (emails, text messages, etc.), it can retrieve your images and record your calls. This software is able to turn your mobile device’ camera on and record you discreetly and/or activate the microphone and listen in on your conversations. It can also pick up on all activities that you do in a day, your current location and past locations. It is also able to pick up on any data on your device including contact information, credit/debit cards, passwords and other personal information.

The amount of effort, money and intelligent minds that were used to create Pegasus had made the software sophisticated enough that if the phone turns down, there is no trace of Pegasus found. The biggest threat that Pegasus poses to high profile individuals is that is can be used to exploit vulnerabilities, hence even the most cautious individuals cannot prevent Pegasus from taking over their phones. 

Unfortunately, there is really no way to prevent anyone from installing Pegasus into your device because zero-click attacks are not visibly detected and there is no knowledge of data packets.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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