Sunday, 23 August 2009

My Ramadan Diary - Day 2

Taqwa - Piety

How wonderful it was to hear that here in the UK we all managed to begin Ramadan on the same day this year without any  confusion about following moon sightings elsewhere in the world or using calculations.

It would be very poor to start the month with acrimony over which day to start just as we should be doing ou best to avoid such unsuitable thoughts.

I have been trying to understand the meaning of taqwa, it is not the same as the western concept of piety and has much more to do with being concious of how all one's actions have a consequence and that it is important in every choice to seek to do the right thing.

Taqwa may sometimes be seen  as being of right conduct, of protecting oneself from evil and its consequences and, as a result, from the punishment that God would otherwise inflict.  In reading the Qur'an we can find it used to describe that God is the Lord of Righteousness or all that is right (Sura al-Muddaththir 56), a cloak of righteousness [that guards against evil] (Surah al-Araf 7) and God's command of self-restraint that was sent as a gift to the believers in Surah al-Fath.

It is this trait that we should be seeking to improve with or fast this Ramadan; each morning in my dua I shall, insh'allah, ask that God grant me taqwa and each evening I shall, insh'allah, reflect on it and give thanks for what God has granted me.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

My Ramadan Diary - Day 1

Fajr - The Dawn

Ramadan Mubarak! May the blessings of this wonderful month go with you.

For us, here in the UK today marks the beginning of Ramadan this year, we are a day later than many other countries. I have done my preparations, read all the advice about what to eat and drink for my Sahur and Iftar meals and I think I'm ready.

This month is a chance for all Muslims to recharge our spiritual batteries for the year ahead and this year I'm going totry to do my best to become a better Muslim by doing some of the studying that I have been putting off. I am also going to try to keep up this Ramadan diary at least once a day for the whole month.

Assalamu Alalikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuh - May the peace, the mercy, and the blessings of Allah be upon you.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

On the British Presence in Afghanistan

The following post is based on my response to this article on Wired's Danger Room blog.

The reasons for growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and Britain's continued participation in it, as I see them, are several and in no particular order:

Firstly the domestic political situation; this is another stick with which to beat an unpopular government despite the fact that any likely replacement would continue with the same policy.

Secondly, the nature of the reporting; certain sections of the media are looking for reasons to paint the conflict in a pessimistic light for the self aggrandisement of some star names and as a result of Andrew Gilligan affair (the BBC journalist forced to resign after allegedly fabricating evidence).

Mr Gilligan has become quite influential in media circles, he now writes for the right of centre London Evening Standard, makes documentaries for Channel 4 and appears on Iranian state TV’s English language channel. He has recently been caught out again, this time sockpuppeting to promote his own views and articles. Each casualty is presented by the broadcast media as an indictment of policy of keeping a British presence and journalist actively seek out and publicise bereaved relatives calling for a British withdrawal.

Thirdly, people are unhappy with the conduct of the war; there is a general perception that we are only there because the Americans want us to be, that there is no British strategy, our troops appear to many to be just holding the ground in Helmand until the either US government decides to pull out or some nebulous victory is achieved.

Fourthly, the failures within the MOD and service leaders back home; the reported lack of transport aircraft, both rotary and fixed wing, is an embarrassment, the management of the size and quality of the Chinook fleet down the years by the RAF is a disgrace, and the MOD’s procurement arm has failed to identify and provide sufficient of the right vehicles in a timely fashion.

The RAF is constantly sniping behind the scenes, trying to take over the air arms of the other two services which does not look good, and the Royal Navy is perceived as having the wrong priorities, spending close to half its resources available for ships and weapons systems on keeping the four Trident submarines. This has brought together an unlikely coalition of those, such as CND, who have opposed nuclear weapons and those who wish to see a capable blue water navy that can operate worldwide.

Finally there is the influence of a small but vocal opposition who have always objected to the war comprised of the extreme left, a minority element within the Muslim community which, if not pro-jihadist, are certainly opposed to any western country’s involvement in the Muslim world, and the isolationist ‘little Englanders’ who think that British troops should only be used to defend direct British interests.

To counter these strands of thought there remains, for most people, only the moral arguments. British business does not appear to have much to gain as, like in Iraq, the big contracts go to US companies, consequently influential business organisations do little lobbying in favour of a continued British presence.

Speaking for myself, a British Muslim, whilst I identify with many of these frustrations, I remain in favour of a continued British element in the NATO force there and of prosecuting the war until a settlement can be found that both, protects the world by denying a safe harbour for al-Qaeda and provides a decent government and living standards for the people of Afghanistan.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Thoughts on the use of Tasers

... and other 'less lethal' weapons.

Firstly let me make it clear that I am addressing the UK situation and, by implication, that within the rest of Europe as all (the democratic) states in Europe have incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into their systems.

The use of Tasers has been sold to the public as an alternative to an armed police force or providing armed police with a non-lethal alternative. As we have seen in practice 'non-lethal' is a bit of a misnomer, they are now classified as 'less lethal weapons'.

The manufacturers now claim this is not the case, they now tell the public* that Tasers are:


The Taser® (and any other less lethal option) is not an alternative to use of lethal force. It should be viewed a one of a number of tools or options that officers can use in the event that the circumstances allow for its reasonable use.

So when does the Law allow for its reasonable use?

According to the police the relevant law is contained within the following:

  • Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967
    ‘A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention
    of crime, or in the effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected
    offenders or of persons unlawfully at large’

  • Section 117 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • ‘Where any provision of this Act or Order
        (a) confers any power on a constable; and
        (b) does not provide that the power may only be exercised with the consent of some other person other than a police officer,
    the officer may use reasonable force, if necessary, in the exercise of the

  • Common Law
    The Common Law has always recognised the right of self-defence.

  • The ECHR

    The most relevant parts of the ECHR are:

    Article 3 – Prohibition of torture
    No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    Article 5 – Right to a fair trial
    Particularly that everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law and that they be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

    Taken together this permits the use of Tasers to prevent crime or to make an arrest where it is reasonable to use that much force, i.e. not where a lesser amount of force would have achieved the same ends. It does not permit their use as a form of punishment or summary justice for failing to carry out an instruction or having committed a perceived prior offence.

    Thus Tasering cannot be used as a threat or as given a consequence of having punched a police officer, it may not be used repeatedly until someone is compliant.

    There are also the issues surrounding whether being Tasered in public is degrading or how much Tasering is required to be considered degrading.

    Certainly I would consider being made to writhe around on the ground degrading and as one of the consequences of repeated Tasering can be soiling oneself, courts may consider that to be a breach of Human Rights as they have seen forced incontinence a form of torture or inhuman punishment in the past.

    *What they tell, the police, I do not know as they restrict that information to Police Forces, the Military and relevant government departments only, if one clicks on Police Zone instead of Public Zone on their website they inform you that they have logged your IP for security purposes, how pleasant of them.

  • Wednesday, 27 May 2009

    Peter Sunde on the Swedish Culture Minister

    Peter Sunde of The Pirate Bay has written an article in response to recent comments by the Swedish Culture Minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, published in the Swedish newspaper, SvD. Here is my attempt at translation.

    How do we get the culture minister to listen?

    Published: May 27, 2009, 12.54. Last changed: May 27, 2009, 13.53

    The Culture Minister's statement on The Pirate Bay shows that the establishment has difficulty in understanding new sectors of society that arise, for example via the Internet. Therefore we would like to invite her to the Venice Biennale in which the TPB will exhibit. Perhaps she will listen to us, writes Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi.

    A few days ago our Culture Minister, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth, spoke regarding her feelings about The Pirate Bay spectrial. She has been quoted as saying "This may not be appreciated by some, but I was one of those who expressed his pleasure over the ruling in Pirate Bay case," she said.

    Apart from it being generally poor judgement for a minister to speak on a specific case, Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth chose to do that because she thought it was important to comment whilst at a meeting with some foreign composers of popular music, or as i see it, creators of little culture, where she just got to eat well and have plenty to drink.

    Her statement is a symptom of a lack of communication between political leaders and non-established channels. Our rulers have fixed groups to which they respond and do not get around to some of the new groups that have arisen, for example via the internet.

    This is not the first time this has happened. Even [Swedish Minister of Justice] Beatrice Ask has previously made judments about TPB as minister. This happened during the Olympics when the Justice Minister said that TPB gave Sweden a bad name internationally. This was followed by thousands of people mailing in their positive perceptions of the TPB to her - a very positive set of documents which unfortunately did not even merit a comment from Beatrice Ask. But at least we tried to get her to listen.

    Therefore, we will try again: I wish to hereby officially invite Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth to another cultural event, the Venice Biennale. There, on a major world art Biennale, The Pirate Bay will exhibit their project 'Embassy of Piracy'.

    It is a great honor for us and for Sweden to be invited and we are very proud. We would appreciate it if our culture was able to rejoice together with us.

    Unfortunately we do not have any money to pay for the visit (for some reason, it is difficult for us to culture although this is not the first time we set out on an international art exhibition). Fast as I understand it is still not okay to receive any expensive gifts / dinners as elected.

    We hope that Lena Adelsohn Liljeroth turn up for their own so we also have the opportunity to present our views on culture, although we do not have the same elite status as other cultural practitioners she supports.


    The Pirate Bay

    Saturday, 2 May 2009

    News Reporting

    One of my nefarious and expanding roles involves monitoring how, and what, news is reported online, so it is my (dis)pleasure to have to trawll through the various major news sites.

    For some time, one of the worst has been, not for the breadth of their coverage, which is generally excellent, or even for editorial bias, but for the insipid quality of its journalism. Barely rehashed stories from elsewhere that border on plagiarism, less content than a radio news bulletin and a general feeling that, upon reaching the end of a story one has been somehow cheated.

    However something odd has been happening recently; the quality of the stories has been improving, the writing is better, they have got longer and generally more insightful.

    Today, though, things came back down to earth with a bump. Firstly with a story entitled "Pandemic 'could kill 750,000 in UK'" in which the reader is treated to predictions of the collapse of the health care system and a lottery of hospital beds. It is only in the fifth paragraph, half way through the story, one finds that these are worst case scenarios from a report published last year on on the state of preparedness and how to improve it. Nothing to do with the current outbreak whatsoever.

    The next few that came in for attention from my virtual red pen were a mixture of unedited copy from the Press association and some reworded press releases that wouldn't pass for reporting on a student newspaper.

    One would think that their coverage of the appointment first female poet laureate would go further than listening to Radio 4 and copying down what was said, perhaps some selected examples of her verse? But no that's all they choose to give their readers.

    I can only presume that someone made a mistake last week and let an actual journalist into the building and that that has now been rectified and we are returned to the status quo ante.

    Thursday, 23 April 2009

    Bias in the Pirate Bay Spectrial?

    Latest news on the fallout from the Pirate Bay trial is the involvement of the Judge with various copyright protection interests. Swedish radio station, P3 (part of Sveriges Radio, the national public radio service), has investigated the judge's background and found links with film and record companies and their lawyers.

    (First my apologies to all Swedes for my attempts at translation and to any of the parties involved if I have misquoted them.)

    is a a member of Svenska Föreningen för Upphovsrätt (SFU), the Swedish Copyright Association, which bills itself as a meeting place for discussions between copyright experts. Other members include the lawyers Henrik Pontén, Peter Danowsky and Monique Wadsted who represented rights holders in the trial.
    District Judge Monique Wadsted, lawyer for the MPAA.

    Lawyer, Leif Silbersky is quoted as saying that the judge should have recused himsel as this was clearly a delicate matter and that this may make it possible to challenge the trial.

    Former Judge Rune Lavin said he would not have sat as judge in those circumstances whilst an unnamed Law Professor says "It is very clear he should not have agreed to preside over the trial".

    "There are different kinds of bias. The most obvious is whether a judge, for example, is related to any of the parties in the case. That has not happened here. But there is something called delicacy and that means we as judges must not even be suspected of being biased."

    When asked about these matters, Tomas Norström said "But I have not felt that I am biased because of those commitments." and in response to the legal experts' opinions he responded "You may have asked them. Each time I take a case, I consider whether I consider myself to be biased. I have not thought so in this case."

    "But it does not matter what the judge himself thinks." says Eric Bylander, Associate Professor of Procedural Law at the University of Gothenburg "Regardless of what position the judge has, this could seen as bad. In a high profile case such as this, it surprises me that he has not been more cautious."

    Original article by Martin Jönsson for Sveriges Radio P3

    Will this result in the verdict being reversed or a retrial? Its to early to say, but lets hope some sanity returns to the proceedings and like Canute and his courtiers, Govenments and the film and record industry realise that the existing model of copyright is a rotting corpse that needs to be buried.

    I hear that one of the original jurors (closer to a kind of lay judge in the Swedish system) in the case was forced to step down because he was involved in a music rights group that made him vulnerable to charges of bias. If this applies to lay people, why not judges as well?

    Tuesday, 21 April 2009

    Shariah and Security

    In response to the reports headlined 'Afghan Marital Rape Law' or something similar I felt it was a good time to right about two apparently separate but in reality, connected areas that of the role of Islam in reconstructing Afghanistan and international security.

    My feeling is that rather than spend a small fortune on headline infrastructure projects, a large one on propping up a failing corrupt government and an absolutely enormous one on prosecuting a war which, no matter how successful it may be, is not going to solve the underlying problem, It would be worth diverting a small fraction of that money into providing properly qualified, orthodox scholars from both communities (Sunni and Shi'a) to help train Afghans and rebuild the legal system; some money could also be spent on scholarships to send locals to Universities abroad, both Islamic and secular, hopefully Afghanistan might then become a model for rebuilding failed states in the Islamic world, Somalia springs to mind.

    Of course there is going to be resistance to that on more than one front. It would not occur to many western governments to use an Islamic solution, others such as the USA would object to supporting religion let alone spending money on it. Vested interests in Afghanistan would complain about outside interference in their affairs. However I think the biggest objections would come from the Governments of Islamic countries.

    It is the states of the Islamic world that ought to be funding and promoting such a programme yet they remain remarkably silent when it comes to coming up with any solution. Perhaps this is because the vast majority of them are run by a mixture of corrupt governments, dictators and small élites whose own interpretations of Islam do not stand up to scrutiny.

    And here lies the problem; no one is willing to stand up and make the big decisions, the current situation is the collective responsibility of of the former Soviet Union , the western allies, the Islamic world and the Afghan people, and because this particular boil of international relations has been alloweed to fester for so long it is threatening to destabilise one of the world's most dangerous regions, that of the Iran-Pakistan-India corridor.

    India is becoming increasingly nervous, it blames Pakistan for everything, even more than usual. Iran is being flooded with cheap heroin from over the border.

    The biggest problem though is Pakistan. From where I sit it appears to be a country tearing itself apart; its political parties are, bar some minor exceptions, run by, and promote the interests of, a small number of ruling families with a history of stuffing their own pockets and those of their friends with as much foreign currency as they can before the next coup or election. The traditional bedrock of the country, the army, is utterly demoralised, the judiciary is, as always, dependent on the whim of those in power and the intelligence services are engaged in their own internecine warfare; with those in the ISI that built the Afghan Taliban, and now support their own domestic version and other extreme groups, trying to purge their own service and emasculate other agencies especially the FIA. If this faction gains control I would expect Pakistan to, if not withdraw all support, at the very least frustrate our efforts in Afghanistan by preventing resupply overland and to increase the support they give to the Taliban.

    Without support from Pakistan, the ability to recruit and train there and access to its lawless arms market the threat from the Afghan Taliban would be a fraction of the current level; it would be reduced to little more than another crime funded pseudo-political rebel group like FARC, highly dangerous still, yet mostly limited to certain areas and able to be dealt with at a domestic level.

    Pakistan is, IMHO, a country that is on the verge of collapse, whether it disintegrates or falls intact in one direction or another is of vital importance to all of us, as of two years ago it had a median estimate of 65 nuclear warheads and enough enriched material to double that with relative ease. Whilst one might expect foreign intelligence services to have been taking a strong interest in the location and control of this material none of the agencies of the interested parties (China, India, Iran, Israel and the USA) have exactly covered themselves in glory in recent years and even if they had enough quantity and quality of intelligence trying to secure everything would be fraught with difficulty. Maintaining some kind of stability, principally in its military apparatus, might seem cynical but may be necessary for all our sakes.

    Thursday, 5 February 2009

    BBC refuses to Broadcast appeal for Palestinians: A Response

    The essence of the BBC's argument seems to be that providing aid to the victims of conflict may be seen to be non neutral and that not all of the aid would go to where it is intended.

    Breaking this argument down, we see that a lack of neutrality is only likely to occur where the victims of conflict occur disproportionately highly on one side compared to the other, as has happened on this occasion and on many others where the BBC has broadcast such appeals.

    Further, it is an unfortunate fact of life that where the rule of law is weak corruption and theft have a negative impact on aid however this does not mean that one should never support charity where one is not sure of the outcome of giving, every society has its share of crooks who will seek to profit from the sudden influx of goods or money and I cannot think of a major aid effort where some of the intended aid did not make it to its intended recipients.

    Thus we have no general argument which justifies treating this request to broadcast an appeal any differently from other, so we must conclude that there is some specific characteristic of this situation that is, so far, unique.

    I have heard three possible reasons advanced in one form or another.

    Firstly, Israel is a special case because of the religious justification for its existence and territorial claims, and because of its genesis in the wake of the holocaust.

    There is no principal of international law which gives a state, based on membership of a religion, permission to abrogate the rights, including the right to life, of some of the population, be they inhabitants of its own territory or of territory it has occupied. Whilst I acknowledge that suffering of the Jewish people in Nazi occupied Europe was a unique crime in modern history, I see no justification the pre existing political philosophy of Zionism to claim in their name, a special status as regards which laws to follow and which to ignore.

    Secondly, the character of Hamas is such that it in the greater good to do everything possible to prevent them acquiring any resources.

    Whilst Hamas is the party elected to form the government of the Palestinian authority I do not pretend that is a wholly nice organisation; it has adopted tactics of violence and intimidation against its Palestinian opponents, it has been responsible for suicide bombings (though it renounced them some years ago and now works to prevent people being recruited to be such) and its Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades have used their rockets in such a way as to kill endanger civilians, indeed they are so inaccurate that any claims of targeting the Israeli military cannot be taken seriously.

    However even Israeli sources admit that over 90% of Hamas's spending goes on social welfare projects such as schools, healthcare, housing and technical support for small businesses. It is this grass roots, parish pump politics, together with a perceived lack of corruption that has led to Hamas's strong electoral base. This compares favourably with many organisations and governments that receive official support from western governments.

    This leaves the third claim to the uniqueness of this conflict, that there is something about the Palestinian people that makes them undeserving of aid.

    Surely it cannot be that they participated in one of the few free and fare elections in the Middle East, or that they are guilty by association as some of their people have engaged in acts of terrorism (a charge that would damn most peoples in the world) or that they simply will not do what they are told by their betters?

    It must be that they are simply Palestinian, an inferior people who do not possess the same rights as others and who may be subjected to the racist views of those who, like the senior executives of the BBC, are empowered to make our minds up for us.