Monthly Archives: November 2013

One Response Arising From The Niqab/Hijab Debate by Henna Riaz

A debate took place defending the right of women to wear what they wished, focusing around the niqab/hijab. It was an excellent debate, with an expert panel discussing the religious, political and media aspects entwined within this piece of material worn as a headscarf or a veil and its Islamic symbolism.

One young female audience member responded thus:

On December 1st 1955, Rosa parks refused to move from a section on a bus. She stood up for her rights. She stood up for equality. She was inspirational she stood up for her beliefs. She protested by herself on that bus for her human rights.
If she in 1955 can stand up for her rights why can’t we do this in 2013?
We are told by government, society and technology that we have moved forward by light years. So then why are we being neglected and being dictated like centuries ago.
I feel that Rosa Parks is an extreme example of standing up for your rights but if the media can constantly show extreme examples is Islam I can certainly do the same.
I personally don’t wear a headscarf on a daily basis but I think it shows a sign of respect. It shows self empowerment that these women don’t need to rely on their beauty and that their beauty is sacred. These women aren’t trying to hide from society they are trying to hide their beauty. This is not a selfish act this is their connection to God and Islam is not the only religion which practises this.
The world should embrace women and respect the rights they have gained over time. Women were not allowed to vote but now we can. We didn’t have equal pay as men in jobs but can now be taken seriously and equally in most professions. I think that any rights women do have should be kept like the right to being able to choose what to wear. Women or men should not be dictated what to wear.
We should be educated that Islam is one of the religions which give women the most rights. We should be not just educated to read but to question what we read. We must proactively seek as much information as possible before we have it handed to us by the media.


Henna Riaz,
Riaz Reports


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We are as Scottish as we are Muslim RIC2013 #ricpeace, by Nighet Riaz

Today I was invited to take part in the Radical Independence Convention workshop for peace, to talk a little bit about my own experiences and interpretation of foreign policy, Scotland and Islam. I spoke alongside MSP John Finnie, Neil Davidson and Isobel Lindsay, who have been campaigning for peace for a very long time, with Neil discussing the imperialist mindset from a historical perspective and how it is embedded in Scottish history as well as UK wide.

Impact of Foreign Policy on Scottish Muslims

As a woman of Pakistani descent and a Muslim, born in Birmingham but living here in Scotland for over 27 years -, I have my bit to say about the impact of foreign policy on Scottish Muslims from my own personal experiences, having reached the ripe old age of 46!

I won’t speak on behalf of the many millions of Muslims around the world or even make a statement that I represent the views of the Muslims in Scotland. This is about how I interpret what is going on in the world around me. I will discuss how I see the effect of foreign policy from a British perspective before contrasting it with the way Scotland is conducting itself on the world stage before finishing with how I see us as Muslims needing to be more proactive in our roles as citizens in Scotland.

I do not believe in war. I cannot condone mass murder of our men and women – they are our hope and aspiration for the future. If our politicians are so passionate about putting what they see as ‘wrong’ to rights, they can go and deal with business themselves – I find it difficult to sleep sometimes thinking that some young lad is lying injured or dying in the name of his country. It doesn’t matter what the reason for the call to war is, it is always the person on the bottom rung, the foot soldier that is sacrificed. It doesn’t make me proud – sad in fact. Another life wasted, for nothing but a government’s ego in the name of patriotism, and a medal for those they leave behind.

Each foreign policy when used to invade another country in recent times, when deconstructed cannot stand up to public scrutiny.

I for one, feel ashamed, and had adopted an ostrich in the sand approach – the problem was far too big for me to deal with, and if I pretended it didn’t exist, I could ignore it – but for how long?

From 1990 to 2001, economic sanctions were levied against Iraq for invading Kuwait. These sanctions included food, baby milk and medicine which resulted in the death of over half a million babies and infants. It led to the crumbling of the infrastructure of Iraq, and huge malnutrition amongst the population.

Where the American Secretary of State, Madeline Albright was made aware of the facts, she was quoted as saying ‘it was worth it’.

How can you ignore that wherever the USA goes to save us from another despotic regime in the Middle East – Afghanistan, Iraq,- Britain blindly follows, even making up false evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction to give themselves credibility to invade another country.

How can two wrongs ever make a right? Explain to me, how the deaths of 3000 innocent individuals in the Twin Towers attack condoned the invasion of Afghanistan and the resulting deaths of over 15000 innocent civilians. Where over 50,000 tonnes of explosives were rained over the skies of cities and towns in Afghanistan. I don’t even want to break it down into a comparative of what one Western life is worth in comparison to a Muslim one.

In Iraq the death toll is over half a million. BUT that’s ok because the British found the Weapons of Mass Destruction and a price had to be paid, DIDN’T it? NO? Oh, I forgot,no weapons were found and a simple apology suffices those in the Middle East and beyond – so what are British troops still doing in these countries? Peace keepers – the irony of that statement!

Where our countries go hand in hand with organisations such as NATO, condoning policies such as drone bomb attacks, where there are far too many accidents of far too many civilians, children in school, wedding parties – how did the NATO bombers identify terrorist activity in these places?  And again a simple SORRY is meted out several months later, after ‘an investigation’. Off course that makes all the families that lost loved ones, their sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents and partners feel so much better – SORRY. Could we even for one minute imagine the horror of picking the body parts of our loved ones to try and assemble them for a burial?

Moving on….

I am proud to see the good work that Scotland is doing as a devolved nation and soon to be an independent one.

Proud to see that we do see ourselves as a huge civic movement that values all life and has active foreign policies which invest in projects in all the continents across the globe, to improve our relationships and trade interests and create synergies for further growth at home and on the world stage. We chose to invest in people, irrespective of their wealth or where they come from, whether that is Malawi, Pakistan, India, Dubai or China, East European countries such as Poland, – we help them to learn about sustainability, empowerment, and growth as communities. We are more than happy to share our knowledge and our skills with our neighbours across the world. It identifies how we see ourselves and how we are seen.

With such inspirational role models as Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s very own Minister for International Development and External Affairs, we are shown the way it is in Scotland and how we can only improve upon this as we move forward to independence.

This leads us onto some questions which we need to answer as Muslims in Scotland

How can we as Muslims complain about our rights, our freedoms, our collective future, if we refuse to engage in the political process across the board as active Scottish citizens?

We have an obligation as Scots and Muslims to fully participate in local and national debates, and not come out in public, to issue an apologist statement when another terrorist attack occurs in the name of Islam. Enough!

We have allowed ourselves to be defined by foreign policy and events in the Middle East for far too long.

Enough of the navel gazing and victim mentality.

We make a positive contribution to Scottish society.

It’s time to let the people, press and politicians know that we are as Scottish as we are Muslim and we care about our shared future. And only by working together as one nation can we put a stop to mass murder. We can only do this if we are completely in charge of our own foreign policies as an independent country. Let me finish with a small quote from Martin Luther King.

We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fish, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.

Let an independent Scotland show us the way!


Nighet Nasim Riaz @nnriaz


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Yes, No, Unsure? Come Join Us For An Interactive Meeting

Yes, No, Unsure? Come Join Us For An Interactive Meeting

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by | November 16, 2013 · 3:26 pm

Hijab/Niqab: Defending a Woman’s Right to Choose

Hijab/Niqab: Defending a Woman's Right to Choose

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by | November 16, 2013 · 3:23 pm

European Free Alliance: The Right to Decide, by Tasmina Sheikh


You won’t be surprised to hear that I intend to talk about Scotland and its current journey towards political independence.

For those who aren’t fully familiar with its history, ours is one of the oldest nations in Europe.

Our flag, the Saltire, can be traced back to the year 832.

Scotland’s relationship with England, its larger and sometimes conquering neighbour, has often been a fractious one.

Yet if there are two character traits Scotland is famous for, they are pride and defiance in the face of an oppressor.

n 1320, during the First War of Independence, the country’s nobles gathered to sign the Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most important expressions of freedom and independence in our continent’s history and, centuries later, a profound influence on the American constitution.

I don’t want this speech to be a history lesson, but the words of that declaration, sealed in wax and sent to Pope John the 22nd at Avignon, are perhaps one of the greatest expressions of human rights ever written.

They resonate down the centuries and still find expression today:

“For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we, on any conditions, be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up, but with life itself”.

t’s amazing what effect a love letter can have, though, and things did get better!

England and Scotland let their wounds heal – well, some of them, anyway – and the odd skirmish and royal beheading didn’t stop a Union of the Crowns of Scotland and England taking place in 1603.

The Act of Union, which joined the two parliaments and formed a unitary state and single market in a sort of precursor of the EU, came into being in 1707.

Scotland was not meant to be assimilated into this new Great Britain, but to be an equal partner within it and, indeed, it has kept its own legal system and distinctive national church – both enshrined in the treaty – to this day.

Inevitably, though, the larger entity overwhelmed the smaller.

Scots did not necessarily object to this: for instance, they played an instrumental role in building and running the British Empire, as well as in two world wars.

Fundamentally, this political settlement survived largely unchallenged until the second half of the 20th century, when there was a gradual reawakening of Scottish national identity, and a growing interest in independence.

There are two very distinct elements to the Scottish autonomy movement which set it apart from nationalist campaigns in other parts of the world.

Firstly it is, and always has been, completely non-violent.

And secondly, it is rooted not in emotional idealism, but in the pragmatic aim of building a better, more cohesive society.

In short, it’s not about independence for its own sake, but as a key to unlocking the door to forging a better country.

My own party, the Scottish National Party, 80 years old next year, has long driven the agenda on independence.

The SNP’s revival in the 1970s led to a national debate about re-establishing the Scottish Parliament which, after an abortive and frankly rigged referendum in 1979, was finally delivered in 1999, a decision validated by the Scottish people in a referendum.

Since then, the transformation in Scottish polity has been remarkable.

The parliament, dominated since its inception by the centre-left, has won the trust of the people, and has wide ranging powers over education, health, justice, the environment, enterprise, culture, rural affairs and much more besides.

However, its remit remains limited. It lacks power of decision making over critical areas of competence.

Key decisions affecting Scots in areas such as economic policy, welfare and benefits, defence, foreign affairs and the constitution are still taken by politicians in Westminster.

More and more, Scots are seeing this existing devolved settlement as inadequate.

As their parliament has matured, so have their expectations and their confidence.

There is a strong and glowing clamour for full independence – a clamour which will be tested and hopefully rewarded in next year’s referendum on this very issue.

The road to the referendum has been a long one, though it has picked up speed in recent years.

The establishment of the Scottish Parliament allowed the SNP to become a major political force for the first time and moved the focus of decision making from London to Edinburgh.

The rules of the new parliament, drafted when Tony Blair was in power, were meant to ensure that no party achieved an overall majority, so forcing consensus through coalition.

And sure enough, the first two Scottish administrations were an amalgam, of Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

But then, in the third parliamentary elections in 2007, the SNP won the most seats – albeit only by one – and decided to press ahead without a coalition partner, as a minority government.

This arrangement held for a full parliamentary term, though the lack of a parliamentary majority did mean that progress could not be made on a Referendum Bill during this mandate.

Then, in 2011, there was a dramatic change.

A proven record of competence in government, the powerful personality of the First Minister Alex Salmond and the party’s imaginative vision for Scotland’s future, chimed with the electors in a way which led to the SNP winning a landslide victory.

The party was so successful that it won an overall majority, despite a system designed to prevent this happening. We broke the mould!

The result of this absolute majority is that the SNP government has been able to implement its entire programme, with a referendum on independence as its flagship offering to the electorate.

The terms of the ballot paper have been agreed – it will be a simple yes/no to the question ‘should Scotland be an independent country’ and the date of the poll is fixed for 18 September 2014.

I mentioned a moment ago that Scotland’s independence movement is driven by aspirations to create an open, progressive, modern European society, rather than by, blood-and-soil nationalism.

It is about pragmatism, not history.

With this in mind, both the Scottish and UK governments have been determined to underpin the integrity of this referendum and to define its exact legal status.

This has been achieved through a critical concordat called the Edinburgh Agreement.

Signed in October 2012 by the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, and the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, this sets the terms of the referendum, including giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in it.

Importantly, it also commits both governments to respect the outcome, meaning that if there is a Yes vote, there will be no attempt by the government in London, to block the will of the Scottish people.

So with a Yes result, the way will be open for Scotland to begin negotiations with Westminster on the transition to independence.

Our aim is to have those talks concluded within 18 months, meaning that the first elections for an independent Scottish parliament will be held at the end of the current term, in May 2016.

That, we believe, is an entirely realistic timetable.

Discussions with the UK government over the terms of independence are hugely important, but they are of course, not the only discussions we will have.

We fully intend to retain our membership of the European Union.

Scotland is, and always has been, a European nation.

I know that, here at the very heart of the European Union and throughout the member states, there is a certain irritation and weariness, at the UK’s deliberately confrontational attitude to the EU, its refusal to engage, and its sometimes childish petulance.

Scotland does not share the UK Government’s destructive and embarrassing mindset.

Scots have a lot to contribute to the EU and a lot to gain from their continued membership.

It’s not just the Scottish Government that wants to play and benefit from as constructive role in Europe: public opinion favours this too.

I’m not pretending that we don’t have our Eurosceptics, and I’m also not pretending that everyone in Scotland thinks that all is wonderfully rosy in the European garden.

Of course it isn’t.

The case remains, for reform of some of the key aspects of EU policy and governance, and we will support that reform.

And we will always act in Scotland’s best interests, which we will fearlessly and tenaciously defend when necessary.

Our fellow member states would expect that, and we know they will respect us for it, as we would respect them.

But we will always negotiate in a spirit of goodwill and co-operation and within the framework of being a good European neighbour and citizen.

We want the EU to work for everyone.

Small nations have always historically commanded respect within the European institutions, and there’s a strong argument that they punch above their weight here in Brussels.

Scotland certainly has plenty to bring to the table.

For instance, our universities lead the world in terms of quality of teaching and research and are engaged in programmes which directly help to improve the quality of life of Europe’s people and boost its economy and society.

Our oil reserves are larger than any other country in the EU and, with independence, will help to secure our national prosperity for generations to come, through a sovereign wealth oil fund – an idea already helping to successfully underpin, Norway’s economy.

Scotland is also fully aware, that stewardship of natural resources also brings responsibility.

Despite the fact that remaining North Sea oil and gas reserves are set to last decades or more, and reinforce Scotland’s existing position as a global centre of innovation and excellence in difficult recovery and deep water technologies, we are already thinking of life beyond hydrocarbons.

Scotland already has some of the most challenging protective climate change legislation in the world and is a global leader in renewable energy.

Not in solar power, admittedly – much as we’d like to, we don’t really get enough sun for that. We’ll leave that to our southern European cousins!

What we do have a lot of is wind.

In fact, we’re the windiest country in Europe.

Please don’t let that put you off coming to Scotland on holiday – all that fresh air is good for you! But our blustery weather does present us with a truly massive commercial opportunity.

We have a quarter of Europe’s wind resource, and also a quarter of its tidal energy potential, along with 10 per cent of its potential wave power resource.

By any measure, that makes us a major player in the kind of clean, green energy from politically stable sources, which will fuel Europe in the future.

But we don’t just provide to Europe – we’re part of Europe.

We’re already in that club.

We Scots are citizens of the European Union, and overwhelmingly, we want and intend to remain so.

Opinion polls show that more than half of us want to stay in the EU and that with independence, that figure would rise to above 60 per cent.

We’re absolutely aware of the benefits that Europe’s freedom of movement, both of goods and people, brings, and we want to retain those benefits.

Freedom of movement rules don’t just give Scots the fantastic opportunity to holiday, live, work, marry and build families in other member states.

They allow EU citizens from other parts of the union to come to Scotland too.

Some 150,000 workers and students from a range of EU countries have chosen to do so.  They have been welcomed and have enriched our culture, economy and society.

Scotland is a better place for their presence, and they, too will be able and welcome to vote in next year’s referendum.

I wouldn’t want to give the impression that we take EU membership for granted.

We know that existing treaties have to be respected and that other member states will need to agree.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to get a precise opinion on our membership from the European Commission – not because the Scottish Government can’t provide the details, but because it requires the UK Government, as the existing member state, to join with us in making the submission, and it has unfortunately, so far, not consented to do so.

Nevertheless, we will work diligently to acquire the agreement of other member states.

Our plan is to make a Notification of Intent to the EU quickly after we secure a Yes vote.

That will signal our intention to continue Scotland’s membership of the EU on independence, with negotiations to start as soon as possible.

Some of our opponents question why an independent Scotland should be a member of the EU, but surely a better question is: why shouldn’t we be?

As I’ve said, we are EU citizens.

We apply EU law and policy.

We have already demonstrated our willingness and capacity, through our existing devolved Scottish Government and parliament, to transpose and implement EU legislation.

We would be a net contributor to the EU budget, and would seek to be an enthusiastic and constructive partner, contributing to Europe’s development and growth.

But surely the strongest arguments aren’t those about law and process.

They are those of reality and common sense.

We are in the EU and we don’t want to leave.

Why would anyone want to throw out a small, engaged, bold new country, which has Europe in its DNA, and has so much to contribute to all the institutions?

There is another dimension here.

As I have explained, Scotland is a pro-European country.

The rest of the UK and the London Government take a different approach.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has chosen to engage in low politics, and tap into a populist well, of mainly English Eurosceptic, anti-immigrant, public opinion.

In order to appease voters attracted by the far right, anti-EU UK Independence Party – a grouping which threatens his own Conservative Party in England but barely registers in the polls in Scotland – Mr Cameron has said he will call a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union in 2017.

This EU referendum is unwanted and unwelcome in Scotland, and it provides another imperative for Scots to vote Yes in our independence poll next year.

If we fail to do so, we could find ourselves being dragged out of Europe against our Will.

But I am confident we will not be faced with this nightmare scenario because there will be a Yes vote in Scotland next September.

Opinion polls show, that the more Scots learn about independence, the more inclined they are to vote for it.

We will have to work hard to win over the electors, and we cannot for a moment be complacent, but a majority for Yes is undoubtedly there to be won.

I am an Advisory Board member of Yes Scotland, the official campaign for a Yes vote next year.

Yes Scotland is building the largest community based campaign in Scottish history, and has secured the support of various political parties in Scotland and indeed individuals of no political persuasion whatsoever, but who strive for a better future than our present.

This debate will be won in communities, workplaces, schools, universities and online.

And by the time polling takes place, I’m hoping my own life will have changed.

As I said at the beginning, I’m standing as a candidate for the SNP in the European Parliament elections in May, and I hope that we’ll secure the number of votes necessary to allow me to join our existing team here in Brussels.

It’s a fantastic prospect, and I really hope that the Scottish people will allow me to see much more of you after next summer!

Some people might think of me as a nationalist.

Am I? I’m not sure, in this multicultural and interconnected world, what nationalism actually is these days.

No one could doubt my love of the country I’m so honoured and pleased to call home, but I think I’d rather call myself an internationalist.

I’m a mix of cultures.

My Dad is Indian, my Mum Welsh; I was born in London and raised in Edinburgh.

I’m proudly Scottish, proudly Asian, proudly Muslim, and proudly European.

And I’d like to think that I’m doing a tiny bit, as we all are, to build a better world.

And I’m a Mum.

That drives me too because, like every parent, I want the very best for my children.

I want them to grow up in a Scotland, and a Europe, which offers them the opportunity to flourish and to be the very best they can be.

I want a Scotland and a Europe which protects their rights, guards their dignity, offers them outstanding social protections if they need them, and embeds in them, deep seated values of fairness, tolerance, liberty, compassion, equality and public service.

And I want them to be part of a continent, stretching from the glittering night skies of the Arctic Circle, to the cobalt seas of the Mediterranean, which they can truly call their own.

It’s their Europe.

It’s my Europe.

It’s Scotland’s Europe.

And it’s a Europe, which doesn’t just need what we have, but also needs what we are.

‘Sae come aa ye at hame wi freedom.’

We are going to win this referendum, and we are going to join you, back in the family of nations to which we belong.


Thank you

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