21 December 2012

Pakistan's Rural Poor on Path to Post-Carbon Prosperity

A revised and updated version of my piece published on this blog here as 'Between Climate Catastrophe and Civilisational Renewal' was published today on OurWorld 2.0, the interdisciplinary web magazine published by the United Nations University's Media Centre.

The piece offers a comprehensive but concise round-up of the latest scientific reports on climate change - with quite scary implications; along with exploration of how the rural poor in remote Pakistan are quietly pioneering truly sustainable socio-economic and political models of local grassroots empowerment that might well hold the potential to save us all.

I hope this is a fitting way to close the working day on 21.12.12.

And with that, have a thought-provoking Christmas and an inspiring New Year!

20 December 2012

The Great Oil Swindle: why the new black gold rush leads off a fiscal cliff

Published in Ceasefire Magazine

UPDATE: Various versions published Le Monde diplomatique, Truthout and other publications

Headlines about this year's World Energy Outlook (WEO) from the International Energy Agency (IEA), released mid-November, would lead you to think we are literally swimming in oil.

The report forecasts that the US will outstrip Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2017, becoming "all but self-sufficient in net terms" in energy production - a notion reported almost verbatim by media agencies worldwide from BBC News to Bloomberg. Going even further, Damien Carrington, Head of Environment at the Guardian, titled his blog: "IEA report reminds us peak oil idea has gone up in flames".

The IEA report's general conclusions have been backed up by several other reports this year. Exxon Mobil's 2013 Energy Outlook projects that demand for gas will grow by 65 per cent through 2040, with 20 per cent of worldwide production from North America, mostly from unconventional sources. The shale gas revolution will make the US a net exporter by 2025, it concludes. The US National Intelligence Council also predicts US energy independence by 2030.

14 December 2012

The Frack Farce

Published on Huffington Post UK

The UK government's decision to resume fracking has been welcomed by the oil industry, and widely lambasted by environmental campaigners. But to a large extent the debate about the potential of shale gas in this country has completely missed the point.

While Prime Minister David Cameron this week lauded the economic potential of the "shale gas revolution", critics insist that fracking will escalate fossil fuel emissions and create intractable environmental problems.

Yet neither have acknowledged a far deeper, and arguably more fundamental question: do the economics of shale gas really add up?

A New York Times investigation last year found that state geologists, industry lawyers and market analysts "privately" questioned "whether companies are intentionally, and even illegally, overstating the productivity of their wells and the size of their reserves." According to the Times, "the gas may not be as easy and cheap to extract from shale formations deep underground as the companies are saying, according to hundreds of industry e-mails and internal documents and an analysis of data from thousands of wells."

7 December 2012

Between Climate Catastrophe and Civilisational Renewal: How the Rural Poor Might Yet Save Us All

Revised version published in United Nations University's OurWorld 2.0 (21.12.12)

Although governments around the world ostensibly agree that our carbon targets must aim to keep global temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius tipping point, it's now clear that we have failed dramatically to stick to our commitments.

According to the latest report from the Global Carbon Project, the rate of growth of carbon dioxide emissions of 3.1% a year is on track to lead to a 4-6C rise by the end of the century - the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) worst case scenario that would lead to an uninhabitable planet.

The report, released while the UN climate talks at Doha continue, follows a spate of studies confirming that industrial civilisation is on the edge of triggering climate catastrophe. A World Bank report, more conservatively, warned that a 4 degrees C rise this century is inevitable on our current emissions trajectory. 

Another report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) similarly concluded: "Even doubling our current rate of decarbonisation would still lead to emissions consistent with 6 degrees [C] of warming by the end of the century" - suggesting that current emissions levels could lead to even higher global temperatures.

Many corporate and government leaders insist that humanity must simply adapt to the new conditions generated by global warming. Earlier this year, for instance, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson argued that the "consequences are manageable... We have spent our entire existence adapting, OK? So we will adapt to this. It's an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions."

29 November 2012

The Myth of the Free Press: Why You Should Ignore the Fake "Free Speech" Naysayers

Published on Huffington Post

When pundits and editors and politicians over the next few days and weeks insist that Leveson's recommendations should be ignored because they endanger the sacred principle of freedom of the press, ask yourself one simple question. 

Whose payroll are they on? 

Invariably, they are either on the payroll of large corporate media conglomerates dependent on advertising revenue from big business, or they're keen to cosy up with the same large corporate media conglomerates. 

Many are probably working for the very newspapers that have demonstrably committed crimes with impunity, made-up stories with no accountability, and protected power from meaningful scrutiny. Those who claim we have a free press that needs defending from the scary mitts of Big Government-backed 'statutory regulation' miss the point entirely. 

We don't have a free press. 

We have a press that has become increasingly co-opted by narrow vested interests whose only real goal is to maximise their revenue streams at our expense. 

They will try to convince you, the public, that what they sell us is in our interest. 

They are wrong. 

28 November 2012

Israel's War for Gaza's Gas

Published in Le Monde diplomatique

"It is clear that without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement."
Moshe Ya'alon, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Strategic Affairs

Over the last decade, Israel has experienced a growing energy crisis. Between 2000 and 2010, Israel's power consumption has risen by 3.5 per cent annually. With over 40 per cent of Israel's electricity dependent on natural gas, the country has struggled to keep up with rising demand as a stable source of gas is in short supply. As of April, electricity prices rose by 9 per cent, as the state-owned Israeli Electricity Company (IEC) warned that "Israelis may soon face blackouts during this summer's heat" - which is exactly what happened.

The two major causes of the natural gas shortage were Egypt's repeated suspension of gas supplies to Israel due to attacks on the Sinai pipeline, and the near-depletion of Israel's offshore Tethys Sea gas fields. By late April, a trade deal that would have continued natural gas imports from Egypt into Israel collapsed, sending the Israeli government scrambling to find alternate energy sources to meet peak electricity demands. Without a significant boost in gas production, Israel faced the prospect of debilitating fuel price hikes which would undermine the economy.

By late June, Israel was tapping into the little known Noa gas reserve in the Mediterranean off the coast of Gaza. Previously, Israel had "refrained from ordering development of the Noa field, fearing that this would lead to diplomatic problems vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority", according to the Israeli business daily Globes. The Noa reserve, whose yield is about 1.2 billion cubic metres, "is partly under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority in the economic zone of the Gaza Strip" - but Houston-based operator Noble Energy apparently "convinced" Israel's Ministry of National Infrastructures that their drilling would "not spill over into other parts of the reserve."

19 November 2012

Fracking: A new dawn for misplaced optimism

Published in The Independent on Sunday (18.11.2012)

You would think we were swimming in oil. The International Energy Agency's (IEA) latest World Energy Outlook forecasts that the United States will outstrip Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer by 2017, becoming "all but self-sufficient in net terms" in energy production. While the "peak oil" pessimists are clearly wrong, so is a simplistic picture of fossil fuel abundance.

When the IEA predicts an increase in "oil production" from 84 million barrels a day in 2011 to 97 in 2035, it is talking about "natural gas liquids and unconventional sources", which includes a big reliance on "fracking" for shale gas. Conventional oil output will stay largely flat, or fall.

15 November 2012

Abu Qatada: the Asset We Can't Get Rid of

published on Huffington Post

The debate about Abu Qatada's untimely release from prison boils down to two, simplistic, polarised narratives. On the one hand, we have a pro-civil liberties, human rights perspective which lauds the government's inability to deport Qatada back to Jordan where he faces the prospect of torture and possibly death. On the other, we have a pro-state backed security perspective which lauds the government's efforts to do exactly this in the name of keeping a dangerous terrorist off British streets.
The debate seems to reinforce the idea of a zero-sum conflict between liberty and security - too much of one tends to undermine the other. Or does it?
The truth is, the debate overlooks a simple, obvious fact. If Abu Qatada is such a dangerous terrorist, how do we know this? And if we do know this, based on clear evidence, why is he not being prosecuted and jailed accordingly under UK jurisdiction in a British court of law?

12 November 2012

My TEDx Talk: The New Paradigm - From Endless Growth to a New Model of Democracy

On 9th October 2012, I was honoured with the opportunity of delivering a TEDx Talk on the theme of Change Through Cooperation in the town of Hornstull in Stockholm, Sweden. I talked about the crisis of civilization as symptomatic of not simply the end of a particular outmoded way of doing things, but more importantly, the birth of an exciting new paradigm for prosperity through grassroots self-empowerment.

Watch my TEDx Talk, and read the full transcript below. 

Please support by sharing with your family, friends, colleagues and networks as far and wide as possible! Here's to a future we co-create together...


Humanity faces a momentous period of transition. Modern civilization is not only in crisis. It confronts a multiplicity of overlapping global crises that are potentially terminal.

We're all aware of the devastating findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose worst case scenario, is that on a business-as-usual trajectory, global average temperatures will rise by 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, creating an uninhabitable planet. We now know that this was far too conservative. The IPCC didn't sufficiently account for the interconnected complexity of different ecosystems. 
Arctic sea ice coverage is now at the lowest level it's been for a million years. It will likely disappear in the summer by 2015. The loss of summer sea ice is linked to the accelerating melt of permafrost, releasing the vast underground stores of methane – about 30 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon. The process is happening much faster than anticipated. Methane concentrations in the Arctic now average about 1.85 parts per million, the highest in 400,000 years.

If this reaches a tipping point, we could trigger a process of unstoppable runaway warming, and we could see a rise of 8-10 degrees Celsius, by the end of this century.

Scientists also link the Arctic melt to our increasingly extreme weather. It will mean more colder, stormier winters in the UK and northern Europe. This, in turn, will damage British and European agriculture. With four-fifths of the United States in drought, prolonged droughts in Russia and Africa, and a lighter monsoon in India - all due to climate change - we're already seeing a global food supply crash that will precipitate dramatic food price spikes. This alone will lead to unprecedented food riots in poor countries around the world.

By mid-century, if we fail to act, world crop yields could fall as much as 20-40 per cent due to global warming. Imagine what this would look like when we factor in the role of energy depletion. In 2010 the International Energy Agency acknowledged that world conventional oil production had most likely peaked in 2006. Future production, relying increasingly on unconventional sources like tar sands, oil shale and shale gas, will be increasingly expensive. But industry hype has promised to reduce these costs dramatically with new drilling technologies, namely fracking. But this just isn't true. Despite the US having increased its total oil supply by up to 2.1 million barrels per day since 2005 – world crude oil production overall has remained largely flat since that very year.

Writing in the journal Nature, Sir David King, the former UK government chief scientist, confirms that unconventional oil and gas won't be able to produce sufficiently cheap liquid fuels at the same rate as that of conventional oil. Production rates at shale wells drop off by 60 to 90 per cent within their first year of operation. Sir King also argues that oil companies have overestimated the size of world oil reserves by about a third. To make matters worse, a typical frack job uses about 4.5 million gallons of water - what New York City consumes in seven minutes. As climate change intensifies drought, it will make fracking more costly and unsustainable.

The problem is that every major point in industrial food production is heavily dependent on fossil fuels – on-site machinery; production of artificial fertilisers; processing, packaging, transport and storage. Ten per cent of energy consumed yearly in the United States is used by the food industry. So as oil becomes more expensive, this will place massive strain on industrial food production. 

And it won't just be food. By 2030, on our current course, climate change alone will lead to deaths worldwide of over 100 million people, and a 3.2 per cent reduction in global GDP. What happens when we factor in the impact of peak oil? A study this year in the leading journal, Energy, concluded that “world oil supply has not increased” since 2005, that this was “a primary cause of the recession”, and that the “expected impact of reduced oil supply” will mean the “financial crisis may eventually worsen.” What happens when we factor in the interconnected feedback effects of water scarcity, food riots, civil breakdown, state failure, mass migrations? The costs will be amplified tremendously.

This is because the growth that we've pursued over the last decades has been tied, inextricably, to the systematic expansion of debt. Although total world GDP is around $70 trillion, global external debt is at $69 trillion, and global public debt is at 64 per cent of global GDP. Meanwhile, the total size of global derivatives trading - the debt-based speculation which got us into this mess - has risen from $1,000 trillion in 2008, to now $1,200 trillion; a number with no relation to the real-economy. It's no coincidence that debt and derivatives have both intensified, because the speculative investments designed to benefit the 1 per cent are being bailed out by the 99. So it's only a matter of time before accelerating costs catch up with unsustainable debt.

It's time to wake up to the fact that the conventional economic model has run out of steam. Having outlasted its welcome, it's now leading us along a path to self-destruction. The heart of the problem is the skewered structure of our current form of capitalism, which makes endless material growth at any cost a seemingly rational imperative.

What is this structure? It comes down to who owns the Earth. Today’s capitalism is based on a completely unnatural condition where approximately 1-5 per cent of the world’s population, owns the entirety of the planet’s productive resources, as well as the technologies of production and distribution. This is the outcome of centuries of colonisation, imperialism and globalisation, which has centralised control of the earth’s resources and raw materials into the hands of a few.

With the entire planet subjected to the unrestrained logic of endless growth, we're witnessing the accelerated degradation of our natural environment, our resource base, our economic and financial system, as well as our material and psychological well-being. These are not separate crises. They are interconnected symptoms of a global Crisis of Civilization.

So how can we respond? We must first awaken to the reality that this is not the end, but the beginning. We are witnessing the collapse of the old paradigm, which hell-bent on planetary suicide, isn't working. By the end of this century, whatever happens, civilization in its current form will not exist. The question we must therefore ask ourselves is this. What will we choose to take its place?

As a species, we are on the cusp of an evolutionary choice. Standing at the dawn of this perfect storm, we find ourselves at the beginning of a process of civilizational transition. As the old paradigm dies, a new paradigm is born. And many people around the world are already making the evolutionary choice to step away from the old, and embrace the new.

Already, local communities and grassroots activists are co-creating this new paradigm as I speak, from the ground up. In Greece, locals in Athens gave up their salaries to form an eco-village, producing their own food, building sustainable houses, and decreasing reliance on money. As austerity wipes out jobs and businesses, the eco-village has become a citizen's hub, giving advice and running workshops on independent living. In the UK, there are 43 communities producing renewable energy through co-operative ownership structures. These projects are established and run by local residents, who collectively invest their own time and money to install local wind turbines, solar panels, and hydro-electric power. The Borough of Woking in Surrey, for instance, produces 135 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, selling energy to the national grid, and earning revenue that feeds back into the local economy. In 2008, 200,000 US households were living off grid - sourcing their own water, generating their own electricity, and managing their own waste disposal. By 2010, this had jumped to 750,000, and is now rising by about 10 per cent a year. Across the Western world, there are now 380 Transition Towns, whose citizens are actively collaborating to make urban life resilient to fossil fuel depletion and climate change.

The new paradigm is premised on a fundamentally different ethos, in which we see ourselves not as disconnected, competing units fixated on maximising consumerist conquest over one another; but as interdependent members of a single human family. Our economies, rather than being assumed to exist in a vacuum of unlimited material expansion, are seen as embedded in wider society, such that economic activity for its own sake is recognised as the pathology that it is. Instead, economic enterprise becomes aligned with the deeper values that make us human - values like meeting our basic needs, education and discovery, arts and culture, sharing and giving: the values which psychologists say contribute to well-being and happiness, far more than mere money and things. And in turn, our societies are seen not as autonomous entities to which the whole of the planet must be ruthlessly subjugated, but rather as inherently embedded in the natural environment.

These grassroots endeavours are pointing us toward a vision in which people reverse their irrational investments in counterproductive conflict. Over the last decade, under the old paradigm, we've steadily increased world military spending by about 4.5 per cent annually. In 2011, world military spending totalled $1.74 trillion – rising 0.3 per cent from the preceding year – flattening only due to the financial crisis. Imagine what we could achieve if we transferred such absurdly huge expenditures on war-preparations for the nation, into development concerns for the species. Study after study proves that we could successfully transition to a 100% global renewable energy infrastructure, within the next 30 years. The costs of this transition would be no more than 1 per cent of the annual national budgets of all world governments.

This implies not just sending home armed forces, reducing unnecessary weapons production, and curtailing the influence of the military-industrial complex. We must convert that very industrial capacity by re-training our workers in the defence industries, and re-employing them in the new industries of sustainable peace that can underpin post-carbon civilization.

This will generate a new sustainable form of prosperity. Even by today's completely inadequate levels of investment, by 2020, some 2.8 million people in Europe will be employed in the renewable energy sector, boosting Europe’s GDP by some 0.24 per cent. Imagine what we could achieve if hundreds of millions of households across Europe came together in their communities to invest their collective resources into each becoming owners and producers of energy?  The new energy paradigm is not about corporate-dominated mega-projects, but about empowering small businesses and communities. Up to 70 per cent of energy is lost in transmission over large distances. So there's potential for huge efficiency gains when power is produced and consumed closer to the source. This model, where households, communities and towns become producers and consumers of clean energy, is being successfully scaled-up in Germany, where 20 per cent of the country's electricity comes from renewables, and 51 per cent of distributed energy generation is owned by individuals, not utility companies.

This new paradigm also applies to food. On the one hand, we need to put an end to the wasteful practices of the industrial food system, by which one third of global food production is lost or wasted every year. On the other, we must shift away from resource-intensive forms of traditional corporate-dominated  agriculture. In many cases, we will find that smaller-scale forms of organic farming which are more labour intensive, though less energy and water intensive, can be more sustainable than current industrial practices. Communal organic farming offers immense potential not only for employment, but also for households to become local owners and producers in the existing food supply chain. In poorer countries, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food finds that small-scale organic methods could double food production. And a recent University of Michigan study concludes that no-pesticide, local forms of organic agriculture without artificial fertilisers, could theoretically be scaled up to sustain high nutritional requirements for the entire global population.

This new paradigm of distributed clean energy production, decentralised farming, and participatory economic cooperation, offers a model of development free from the imperative of endless growth for its own sake; and it leads us directly to a new model of democracy, based not on large-scale, hierarchical-control, but on the wholesale decentralisation of power, towards smaller, local ownership and decision-making.

In the new paradigm, households and communities become owners of capital, in their increasing appropriation of the means to produce energy, food and water at a local level. Economic democratisation drives political empowerment, by ensuring that critical decisions about production and distribution of wealth take place in communities, by communities. But participatory enterprise requires commensurate mechanisms of monetary exchange which are equitable and transparent, free from the fantasies and injustices of the conventional model. In the new paradigm, neither money nor credit will be tied to the generation of debt. Banks will be community-owned institutions fully accountable to their depositors; and whirlwind speculation on financial fictions will be replaced by equitable investment schemes in which banks share risks with their customers, and divide returns fairly. The new currency will not be a form of debt-money, but, if anything, will be linked more closely to real-world assets.

But equally, the very notions of growth, progress, and happiness will be redefined. We now know, thanks to research by the likes of psychologist Oliver James and epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson, that material prosperity in the West has not only failed to make us happy, it has proliferated mental illnesses, and widened social inequalities, which are scientifically linked to a prevalence of crime, violence, drug abuse, teenage births, obesity, and other symptoms of social malaise. This doesn't mean that material progress is irrelevant - but that when it becomes the overriding force of society, it is dysfunctional. So we must accept that the old paradigm of unlimited material acquisition is in its death throes – and that the new paradigm of community cooperation is far more in tune with both human nature, and the natural order. This new paradigm may well still be nascent, like small seeds, planted in disparate places. But as the Crisis of Civilization accelerates over the next decades, communities everywhere will become increasingly angry and disillusioned with what went before. And in that disillusionment with the old paradigm, the seeds we're planting today will blossom and offer a vision of hope that will be irresistible tomorrow. 

There's only one question that remains. Are you going to hold fast with the grip of death to the old paradigm, or will you embrace life to become an agent of the new paradigm of community cooperation? 

For more, check out my film The Crisis of Civilization, based on my latest book, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (Pluto/Macmillan, 2010).

23 October 2012

ELEVATE THE APOCALYPSE? My Q&A for the Elevate Festival 2012, Graz, Austria

     I'm excited to be taking part in this year's Elevate Festival, whose theme 'Elevate the Apocalypse' is all about asking the hard question of whether we need systemic failure and breakdown before we're capable of making the big changes we need for the 21st century. I'll be on a panel this Thursday 25th with some cool scientist types, including the renowned climate expert Stefan Rahmstorf, a lead IPCC author and advisor to the German govt. Ahead of the Festival, guests have been asked to answer some penetrating questions about our current civilizational predicament. My answers will be published on the Elevate Festival website this Thursday to coincide with our panel; but you gorgeous people get to see them now. So here you go...

1)      What's your take on the current multiple crisis (economic, ecological, social, political) and the (anti)crisis politics?

We are currently facing an unprecedented convergence of global climate, energy, food, water, economic, social, psychological and political crises. Unfortunately, our conventional epistemological approaches, which are reductionist and fragmentary, tend to view these crises in isolation, failing to comprehend their inherent systemic interconnections. But these are not separate crises. They are interconnected symptoms of a global Crisis of Civilization.

5 October 2012

On the extraordinary extradition ruling on Babar Ahmad


FBI says 'jump' 
The Met says 'how high' 
The Home Office bends over backwards
The Attorney General does a jig 
And the High Court trips over its own behind 
While the US deep state sits back and enjoys the show

Meanwhile, habeas corpus is sacrificed on the altar of Big Brother 
Welcome to the Brave New World 
Where Orwell spins in a grave 
Dug for him by Men in Black

This is the terror of a freedom defined by fighting terror

3 October 2012

My new big writing project: The Zero Point

Hot on the heels of the wonderful success of The Crisis of Civilization (2011) and the book on which it's based, A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilization: And How to Save It (2010), I'm involved in a number of endeavours to build on what we achieved, including some exciting new initiatives under the umbrella of the Institute for Policy Research & Development.

However, the thing I'm going to introduce now is my current writing project: The Zero Point.

A Novel!?

Yes. The Zero Point is my first novel. It's a political science fiction thriller, and what I envisage to be the first in a trilogy.

The Zero Point has been in the making for almost four years - I started writing it while I was also working on Crisis. When I first started, it was a bit of fun when I had some time on my hands (oh the good ol' days...). But working with Dean Puckett to make The Crisis of Civilization opened my eyes to a whole new arena of creative communication and expression. The process of making the film increased my ability to engage as both a speaker and a writer, and helped me to learn how to make complex ideas accessible to a wide audience. And that created a whole new world of possibility for me to consider.
While I will always seek to ground myself in rigorous scholarship, my Crisis experience made me even more interested in exploring new ways of communicating. One medium I decided to experiment with is fiction.

25 September 2012

Extradition: A Victory for Terror

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that five British terror suspects, the most notorious of which is the self-styled ex-Finsbury Park mosque cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, can be extradited to the United States to be tried on terrorism charges. 

While the usual cheerleaders and critics have been out in force, lost in the debate are serious questions about the repercussions of this move not just for habeas corpus and the prosecution of terrorism in British jurisdiction, but more importantly for the dubious role of the British intelligence services in secretly facilitating the activities of Islamist extremists on UK soil. 

On the one hand, assumptions of guilt concerning at least two of the alleged terror suspects, Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, appear pre-emptive in the extreme. On 19th July 2006, Talha was suddenly arrested by British police at his home. That very week, he had several job interviews scheduled to train as a librarian - although diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, Talha is an extraordinarily bright young man, who had recently graduated with first class honours from the School of Oriental and African Studies. For the last six and a half years since then, Talha has been imprisoned without charge. 

1 August 2012

Gore Vidal Passes... His Legacy Lives On

Just heard the tragic news today that US literary giant, Gore Vidal, has passed away at the age of 86. This is a truly sad day. Apart from his groundbreaking contributions to literature, Gore was a caustic critic of 'the American empire' and of the idiosyncrasies and hypocrisies of Western culture, politics and economics.

Gore was also one of the early supporters of my work, having endorsed my first book, The War on Freedom: How and Why America was Attacked, September 11, 2001 (used by the 9/11 Commission and part of its 'Special Collection'), which he cited and reviewed extensively in an essay in The Observer about a decade ago.

I recently defended Gore (and myself) from another late literary giant, ideologically on the opposite fence - Christopher Hitchens - who took issue with Gore' 'war on terror' essay in a Vanity Fair piece. My response to Hitchens was published in The Independent on Sunday.

Below, in tribute to Gore, I re-publish the full text of his original seminal essay in The Observer. It is one of his least known, yet most incisive, pieces of work. A quick reading of this essay can lead to easy misunderstandings and generalisations - which is what inspired Hitchens (inaccurate) criticisms of him. For contextualisation and clarification of this provocative essay, see my Independent on Sunday piece in reply to Hitchens.

19 July 2012

Report - Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media

Earlier this year, I and my colleagues at Unitas Communications – where I’m currently Chief Research Officer – decided to address the issue of British media coverage of Islam and Muslims for the ongoing Leveson Inquiry appointed last year by Prime Minister David Cameron. 

We agreed with the letter to The Guardian signed by over 50 public figures – including people like Bianca Jagger and Jemima Khan – which criticised the Inquiry for focusing largely on high-profile cases of phone hacking affecting celebrities, but very little on broader issues within the Inquiry’s terms of reference on less high-profile cases. However, while that letter called for an "alternative inquiry" - which, however, would ultimately have little in the way of teeth that might actually influence the process of media reform directly, we felt it important that pressure be brought to bear on the Leveson Inquiry to fulfil the terms of reference of its investigations as much as possible.

So we decided to leverage our networks in the relevant media and political sectors, and to do some solid research of our own, to produce a comprehensive report on this issue for submission to the Leveson Inquiry.

In the end, we interviewed a total of 16 media professionals – including journalists and editors across the main print and broadcasting institutions in the UK – as well as scholars, and community leaders. We also examined the key literature on the subject going back as far back as the 1990s.

We eventually completed the report, titled Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media, earlier this month – which you can download here. The report was formally submitted to the Inquiry on the 9th of July. Since then, I have published some articles about it which summarise our main findings and recommendations, in Huffington Post (focuses on elaborating the key facts), Le Monde diplomatique (focuses on our key recommendations), and Public Service Europe (a more general summary). 

UPDATE (20.7.2012, 14.57PM GMT) 

The Independent has this morning published another piece by me about the report, 'A New Age of Racism? Why Leveson must investigate anti-Muslim bigotry'.

UPDATE (20.7.2012, 16.48PM GMT)

The London School of Economics (LSE) British Politics and Policy Blog run by the LSE Public Policy Group has just nominated my Huffington Post piece as one of this week's Top 5 Blogs.

4 July 2012

BBC News Vindicates Our Story on Troubles Facing The Muslim Youth Helpline

On 21st June, BBC London News ran an exclusive television report on the recent troubles facing the Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH), about which I had issued this lengthy public statement.

The BBC London News team attempted to contact myself and Akeela several times asking us to give a statement before the camera – going so far as to send reporter Guy Smith round our flat - but we explained to them that due to the harassment we had faced, we had no desire to further inflame tensions on this issue by going public, which we felt would be irresponsible, provoke further attacks on us, as well as potentially invite unnecessary public scrutiny of Muslim communities.

In the end, the report that they ran was very fair and objective, and set the record straight on matters that have been speculated about in the blogosphere and beyond.

It confirmed the following:

1.       The helpline had been suspended in June due to the impact of the hacking activities, which had compromised security severely and created an unsafe environment for volunteers.

2.       The hacking was part of a campaign of harassment and intimidation against my wife Akeela, who was then CEO of MYH, which was designed to cause her to lose her job. The campaign succeeded in doing so - after her personal gmail account was hacked, she resigned to avoid further harassment.

3.       We had contacted the police about this criminal campaign and notified them that we believed it was motivated by an extremist agenda linked to racism and homophobia (which as I clarified in my statement revolved around the employment of a non-Muslim about whom malicious rumours were spread concerning his alleged sexuality).

4.       We had not referred names of helpline workers to the Anti-Terrorism police officers, and this was directly confirmed by Scotland Yard, who stated that nothing of the sort was received by them.

Unfortunately when the crimes were reported to Marylebone Police Station, we were told that a criminal investigation would not be proceeding and that Anti-Terrorism had been asked to look at the case. What the BBC London News report confirms is that Scotland Yard had very quickly assessed the case and sent it straight back down. However, the police hadn’t communicated any of this to us, which is why I had chosen to reach out to a senior police officer I had come into contact with working at the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) on Prevent strategy, with a view to get a proper police investigation into the criminal activities we had reported.

That criminal investigation is thankfully still underway. 

15 June 2012

Me and the Muslim Youth Helpline: An Explanation, An Apology and Hope for the Future

The current circumstances at the Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH) are devastating. The MYH is a faith sensitive charity for young Muslims, offering a helpline, webchat, email and signposting support service.  My wife, Akeela Ahmed, until this last Friday was Chief Executive there for some years, and prior to that Head of Support Services.

Currently, confidential communications – some of them involving me, Akeela and the police – are on an anonymous blog identifying itself as a ‘whistleblowing’ group of 30 signatories who signed an initial “statement against the CEO and Helpline manager ”, raised on 18th May.

Understandably, there have been huge concerns about what is published on that blog, based on communications between myself, Akeela and police. I completely understand why so many people who have seen this material are upset, worried and downright angry; and why so many people assume that what we have done is indefensible. Indeed, if I was in your shoes, I’d probably feel much the same way.

But there is a wider context here which has not been publicised. The first element of this wider context is our communications with the police, only a part of which the hackers have disclosed. On that front, I want to state from the outset that we made a fundamental mistake in our approach, and it had an entirely unintended consequence. I of all people should have known better, and we tried, with some success, to neutralise those consequences. But we did what we did in genuine fear, rather than any malice.

The second element of this context is how this information got on the blog in the first place – it did so as fallout from an escalating criminal campaign against the charity and its management since last year. Without understanding how this campaign affected our perceptions and emotions at the time, it is difficult to understand what led us to make this mistake. What follows is not a justification of the actions we took, but an explanation – the lesson of this narrative is, indeed, that whatever illegitimate actions others took, ours should have been wiser.

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