UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
Muslim worshippers gather for Friday prayer on the streets outside the mosque of the Muslim centre in east London. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 30 March 2023

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report

UK ‘urged to boost monitoring of Islamic schools’ in new report
  • Bloom consultation likely to support calls for stricter state oversight of unregistered madrasas
  • Muslim leaders say the government has failed to engage with religious community

LONDON: Britain should do more to monitor Islamic groups and schools, crack down on forced marriages and help people to leave oppressive religious groups, a government consultation is reported to recommend.

The report, to be released within weeks, is set to be what the Guardian described on Wednesday as “the most sweeping review of the relationship between faith and the state in recent times”. It is led by Colin Bloom, a former head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship who was appointed in 2019 to review the government’s engagement with various faiths. 

Several sources have told the Guardian that the report, which is due to be published by the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, will call for the monitoring of unregistered faith schools, where there are concerns about abuse and radicalization.

It however also warns that such measures risk clashes with faith leaders, who have previously resisted attempts by ministers to intervene in religious affairs.

Other sections will also call on the government to do more to combat forced marriages and offer more help to those attempting to leave oppressive religious groups. 

The recommendations are likely to boost calls for stricter monitoring of Islamic groups by Secretary of State for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove. 

The Muslim Council of Britain told the Guardian: “There remains a lack of any meaningful engagement by government with diverse British Muslim communities.

“We would hope that the Bloom report recognizes how vital it is for the government to establish meaningful engagement with British Muslim communities more broadly and the key role Muslim-led representative bodies can play in facilitating this.”

In the past, Conservative ministers have attempted to regulate such schools before but were forced to back down due to protests from mainstream religious groups. 

Following the “Trojan horse” scandal in 2015, the then-Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to crack down on Islamic madrasas by allowing inspectors to visit any institution where children are taught for more than six hours a week. 

Islamic groups claimed they were being unfairly singled out premised on shaky evidence of systemic radicalization within their community. 

Cameron reportedly abandoned the plans after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby warned that it would make running Sunday schools more difficult.

Some of the Bloom proposals will also be intended to strengthen religion as a core component of British society. This includes providing resources for religious education in schools and increased funding for chaplains in prisons, schools, and universities. 

“I have never seen a report on religion and the state which is this comprehensive,” one source familiar with large parts of the report told the Guardian.

“Colin [Bloom] has gone in-depth into many areas of public and religious life from which ministers normally stay well away,” they added.

Richy Thompson, the director of public affairs at Humanists UK, said: “In the past, the government has sometimes been nervous about tackling problems caused by religious groups, but those problems can extend to the most extreme forms of abuse. 

“If this report is to see the government change tack here, then that is to be welcomed.”

Crisis-hit UK business lobby faces survival vote

Updated 12 sec ago

Crisis-hit UK business lobby faces survival vote

Crisis-hit UK business lobby faces survival vote
LONDON: Britain’s scandal-hit business lobby group, the CBI, faces a vote crucial to its survival Tuesday, with members urged to back reform under new leadership after allegations of sexual harassment by staff.
The Confederation of British Industry risks folding after claims that more than a dozen women were sexually harassed at the organization and two others had been raped.
Police have launched an investigation following the allegations reported this year by The Guardian newspaper, triggering a shake-up at the organization and an extraordinary vote on its future.
The allegations, described as “absolutely devastating” by new CBI director general Rain Newton-Smith, caused an exodus of member companies — and the launch Monday of a rival body by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
Newton-Smith, who has described the situation as a “really deep and painful crisis” for the CBI, told an extraordinary general meeting Tuesday that she was “confident and determined this will be a turning point for us, the start of a new chapter, for a renewed CBI.”
She added: “We’re ready to deliver a better CBI. We just need one thing now — your vote.”
The resolution being voted on Tuesday calls on remaining member companies to put their confidence in CBI proposals to reform its “governance, culture, and purpose.”
The organization has proposed the creation of a People & Culture Committee plus an external expert-led Culture Advisory Committee.
And it has created the role of chief people officer.
At the same time it is cutting jobs as the reduction in members slashes revenue.
The scandal comes as UK businesses look for leadership during a cost-of-living crisis, with the country’s elevated inflation cooling more slowly than expected.
In a move seen as taking advantage of the crisis, the BCC has launched the rival Business Council.
“We have been talking to the nation’s largest corporates and it has become clear to us that they are looking for a different kind of representation,” said BCC director general Shevaun Haviland.
Founding partners include British energy group BP and Heathrow airport.
But Newton-Smith said Tuesday that a revamped CBI could still be a powerful driving force, with its depth of expertise and practical business insights over decades.
“Even our competitor groups have admitted they can’t match all that.”
About one dozen firms, including engineering giant Siemens, Microsoft and oil firm Esso, have signed a joint letter published in The Times newspaper backing the CBI reforms.
The signatories said that while the “CBI has recognized its failings,” they “will hold it to account on putting its plan into action.”
The letter added that “as the UK faces strong economic headwinds and anaemic growth and with a general election expected before the end of next year, it is vital that there is a credible voice representing all sectors and sizes of UK business.
“The CBI can do this.”
It comes after major companies including Unilever, UK bank NatWest and BMW Group canceled their membership.
Others have suspended their involvement — and cannot vote on Tuesday — while the UK government has distanced itself from the CBI.
Newton-Smith took over from Tony Danker, who recently departed over a separate misconduct allegation.

EU’s Borrell says Russia takes aggression to new level with dam blast

EU’s Borrell says Russia takes aggression to new level with dam blast
Updated 11 min 7 sec ago

EU’s Borrell says Russia takes aggression to new level with dam blast

EU’s Borrell says Russia takes aggression to new level with dam blast
  • "The European Union condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms,” Borrell said
  • Ukraine and its Western allies accused Russia of blowing up the dam in a deliberate war crime

BRUSSELS: Russia has taken its aggression against Ukraine to a new level with the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric dam in the south of Ukraine, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Tuesday.
“Russia’s attacks against Ukrainian civilian critical infrastructure reached an unprecedented level today with the destruction of the dam at Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant,” Borrell said in a statement.
“The European Union condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms. It represents a new dimension of Russian atrocities and may constitute a violation of international law, notably international humanitarian law.”
Ukraine and its Western allies accused Russia of blowing up the dam in a deliberate war crime.
The Kremlin said it was Ukraine that had sabotaged the dam, to distract attention from a counteroffensive Moscow claims is faltering. Some Russian-installed officials said the dam had burst on its own.
The blast has put the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians in danger and is affecting access to cooling water for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant (ZNPP), Borrell said.
“With this desperate act, Russia is also continuing its reckless nuclear gamble by putting at risk the proper functioning of the safety and security systems of the ZNPP,” the European Commission’s vice president said.
The EU was in touch with Ukrainian authorities to see how it could help, Borrell added.

US, Japanese, Philippine coast guard ships stage law enforcement drills near South China Sea

US, Japanese, Philippine coast guard ships stage law enforcement drills near South China Sea
Updated 06 June 2023

US, Japanese, Philippine coast guard ships stage law enforcement drills near South China Sea

US, Japanese, Philippine coast guard ships stage law enforcement drills near South China Sea
  • The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China

ABOARD BRP CABRA, Philippines: US, Japanese and Philippine coast guard ships staged law enforcement drills in waters near the disputed South China Sea on Tuesday as Washington presses efforts to reinforce alliances in Asia amid an increasingly tense rivalry with China.
The drills, witnessed by journalists onboard a Philippine coast guard patrol boat, the BRP Cabra, included a scenario involving the interdiction and boarding of a vessel suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction off the Bataan Peninsula, Philippine coast guard spokesperson Commodore Armand Balilo said.
The US Coast Guard is deploying one of its most advanced cutters, the 127-meter Stratton, in the June 1-7 exercises hosted by the Philippines, Washington’s oldest treaty ally in Asia. The Stratton has been conducting exercises in the region to share expertise in search and rescue and law enforcement, the US Coast Guard said.
“This first trilateral engagement between the coast guards of these nations will provide invaluable opportunities to strengthen global maritime governance though professional exchanges and combined operations,” the Stratton’s commanding officer, Capt. Brian Krautler, said at the start of the exercises. “Together we’ll demonstrate professional, rules-based standards of maritime operations with our steadfast partners to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Japan deployed a large coast guard ship, the Akitsushima, while four Philippine coast guard vessels joined the exercises.
The Biden administration has been strengthening an arc of military alliances in the Indo-Pacific to better counter China, including in the South China Sea and in any future confrontation over Taiwan, the self-governing island which Beijing regards as a Chinese province.
Washington lays no claims to the strategic South China Sea, where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysian, Taiwan and Brunei have been locked in tense territorial stand-offs for decades. But the US says freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of disputes in the busy waterway are in its national interest.
Philippine officials say such joint exercises with US forces do not target any country. But China has warned that increased US security deployments in Asia target Beijing’s interests and undermine regional stability.
The US Pacific Command said over the weekend that a US guided-missile destroyer and a Canadian frigate were intercepted by a Chinese warship in the Taiwan Strait. The Chinese vessel overtook the American ship and veered across its bow at a distance of about 140 meters in an “unsafe manner,” it said.
Last month, the US Indo-Pacific Command said a Chinese J-16 fighter aircraft flew directly in front of a US Air Force RC-135 plane in an “an unnecessarily aggressive maneuver” while the American reconnaissance plane “was conducting safe and routine operations over the South China Sea in international airspace, in accordance with international law.”
In April, Japan adopted a new five-year ocean policy that calls for stronger maritime security, including bolstering its coast guard’s capability and cooperation with the military. It cited a list of threats, including repeated intrusions by Chinese coast guard ships into Japanese territorial waters.
The Philippine coast guard, meanwhile, has intensified patrols in the South China Sea and taken extra efforts to document and publicize assertive Chinese behavior in the waterway following a Feb. 6 incident in which a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members on a Philippine patrol boat off a disputed reef.

Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild

Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild
Updated 06 June 2023

Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild

Flood-hit Pakistanis still waiting on promised rebuild
  • The monsoon deluges of last summer submerged a third of the country, killing 1,700 people and displacing eight million more

DADU: Noor Bibi lost her mother, her daughter and the roof over her head in the catastrophic floods that drowned Pakistan last summer.
One year later she remains homeless, living with the remnants of her family in spartan tents marking where the village of Sohbat Khosa was gutted by the deluge in southern Sindh province.
Noor, a farm worker approaching her 60s, prays for “someone with righteous thoughts that will help us build some good houses in an elevated place.”
“If it flooded again, we would not bear such big losses,” she told AFP.
But government pledges to rebuild flood-ravaged swathes of Pakistan so they are resilient to future extreme weather have largely failed to materialize.
The monsoon deluges of last summer submerged a third of the country, killing 1,700 people and displacing eight million more.
Climate change is making those seasonal rains heavier and more unpredictable, scientists say, raising the urgency of flood-proofing the country.
A failure to do so will be most acutely felt by the poor, who tend to live in the most vulnerable areas.

Here in Dadu district, which was heavily flooded, no rehabilitation is visible. Rare pieces of public infrastructure remain in disrepair and housing reconstruction is left to locals or NGOs.
In January, Islamabad announced a “Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Framework” valued at $16.3 billion, but it remains confined to paper.
International donors have also pledged $9 billion, but most of the cash will come in the form of loans.
Villagers’ crops were swept away in the floods, depriving them of livelihoods that might have allowed them to pave their own way to recovery.
With pooled funds, the residents of Sohbat Khosa only raised enough for a toilet and water tank.
Their best hope is the Alkhidmat Foundation, a Pakistani NGO, which plans to build around 30 new homes.
“The government seems to not exist here, and if anything is done by the government, that is only corruption,” said Ali Muhammad, a coordinator for Alkhidmat in Dadu.
Pakistan is currently mired in dual political and economic crises that have brought all public initiatives to a standstill.
But decades of entrenched corruption and mismanagement are also to blame.
“Building back better is expensive, and the amount of damage is colossal,” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told AFP.
He said he “can’t speak to what the federal government has done,” but in Sindh province, controlled by his party, “we’ve started a couple of initiatives.”
“One is the financing of the reconstruction of houses, through NGOs and charity organizations,” he said.
However, Alkhidmat, like two other NGOs interviewed by AFP, has not received any public money and relies entirely on private funds.

Thanks to Alkhidmat’s efforts, a few dozen homes have been built in the district, but it’s nowhere near the two million damaged or destroyed in the floods.
The village of Bari Baital, submerged until November, is expected to eventually host 80 houses built by the foundation — far too few for its thousands of inhabitants.
To resist future rains they are raised on brick pillars, and built with reinforced roofs and water-resistant cement.
“People are completely unaware of climate change,” said village teacher Imtiaz Ali Chandio.
All they know is that their village has been a “passage for floods for centuries,” he said.
But moving is not an option, meaning the scenario will likely soon be repeated.
“Where else could we go?” asked Abdulrahim Brohi, who already weathered catastrophic floods in 2010. “Everything of ours is here.”
“Somewhere else people won’t accept us,” added Brohi, who estimates his age to be between 50 and 60. “We don’t have resources to rebuild our houses here, so how can we afford land somewhere else?“

Prized by tourists for its scenic mountain vistas, the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan was also hit hard by last year’s floods.
Hundreds of hotels, restaurants, businesses and homes perched on the banks of the Swat river were swept away as ferocious waters were funnelled down the ravine.
To prevent a repeat of the disaster, authorities have “imposed a complete ban on the construction of any sort of building on the river,” said Irfanullah Khan Wazir, Swat’s deputy commissioner.
Nonetheless, in Bahrain, a small resort town once half underwater, the government’s writ is so weak that builders are riding roughshod over the ban.
A number of shops, restaurants and hotels have been renovated or rebuilt just meters from the coursing water. Even the mosque has been rebuilt on the same spot where it was heavily damaged.
“People are doing illegal construction on weekend nights, but [authorities] are not paying any heed — their silence is baffling,” said hotel manager Zafar Ali.
His own property is under construction 20 meters (65 feet) from the river, in a zone he says is authorized.
It is now protected by a flood wall twice the height of the previous one. Economic considerations also prevented them from relocating away from their waterfront vantage.
“Tourists want to be able to open their windows and see the river outside,” Ali said. “Those built further away struggle to cover their expenses.”
Locals in Swat also condemned the inaction of authorities. The main road following the river has been reopened, but whole sections of tarmac remain torn away.
Compensation schemes have been limited to certain people who lost their homes. They are granted 400,000 rupees ($1,400), nowhere near enough to rebuild.
Muhammad Ishaq, a tailor in Bahrain, built his house near the river for easy access to the water. He watched as his home was swallowed by the floods, and has since been forced to move in with his father further up the mountainside.
Life there is harsher, he told AFP, but even if he manages to rebuild, he knows he “will have to stay away from the river.”

South Korea’s Yoon says alliance with US ‘nuclear-based’

South Korea’s Yoon says alliance with US ‘nuclear-based’
Updated 06 June 2023

South Korea’s Yoon says alliance with US ‘nuclear-based’

South Korea’s Yoon says alliance with US ‘nuclear-based’
  • Upgrade in alliance in the face of North Korea’s growing military threat
  • North Korea this year test-fired its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile

SEOUL: South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Tuesday he has upgraded the country’s alliance with the United States to one that is “nuclear-based” in the face of North Korea’s growing military threat.
Yoon was referring to his talks with US President Joe Biden in April on Washington’s willingness to give Seoul more insight into its nuclear planning in the event of potential conflict with nuclear-armed North Korea.
“North Korea is enhancing its nuclear and missile capabilities, and has legislated the use of nuclear weapons,” Yoon said in a speech marking South Korea’s Memorial Day.
At their summit in Washington, the two leaders agreed to strengthen the so-called US extended deterrence, which envisions the use of US nuclear weapons to defend the South.
“The South Korea-US alliance has now been elevated to ‘nuclear-based’ alliance,” Yoon said.
North Korea this year test-fired its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile and last week attempted to launch its first spy satellite, although the rocket and the payload plunged into the sea.
North Korea made a rare and swift admission of the launch’s failure but vowed to try again and put a satellite in orbit to increase its military surveillance capabilities.
The launch was widely condemned as violating UN Security Council resolutions that ban the use of ballistic missile technology by the North.
Pyongyang has rejected the ban as an infringement of its sovereign right to self-defense and space development.
While Yoon characterized his talks with Biden as an agreement to use US nuclear weapons in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack, Biden reiterated a pledge “to make every effort to consult” with allies on the use of a nuclear weapon.
Yoon did not elaborate further on the subject and devoted most of his Memorial Day speech to honoring those who had made sacrifices in defense of the country.
South Korea’s military has been undertaking a salvage operation at sea off the west coast to recover a substantial segment of the rocket launched by the North on May 31.