Inews – In 2016, British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was convicted of being a spy by an Iranian court. Until the Covid crisis, she was incarcerated in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. She was then moved to her parents’ home with an ankle tag to complete her sentence. In April she was charged and convicted of “propaganda activities”. Her husband Richard Ratcliffe and his MP, Tulip Siddiq, have tirelessly fought for her release. Her daughter, now in the UK, is only six years old.
Anoosheh Ashoori, another British-Iranian is serving a 10-year sentence in Iran. His wife, Sherry Izadi, tells the BBC he’s in a prison cell with 15 other people and is suffering from Covid symptoms: “I’m worried he’s going to rot in jail.” There are several more Western victims of this hardline regime, which also metes out atrocious punishments to its own people – the young, gay Iranians, secular Muslims, human rights and democracy activists.
Nobel Prize-winning lawyer, Shirin Ebadi, now an exile in Europe, is still shadowed by her government; Nasrin Sotoudeh, another award-winning human rights lawyer, was sentenced in 2019 to 148 lashes and 38 years in prison. Some of these individuals are pawns in geopolitical games, while others, more sinisterly, symbolise the everlasting clash between Western and so-called “Islamic” values.
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Western Muslims have a key role to play in this ideologically ruptured world. They, who hail from the east but are of the west, could promote universal ethicality. Regrettably, they have relinquished this responsibility and have turned inwards. Activists and organisations focus entirely on Islamophobia – an urgent and real injustice – and religious rights. They get exercised about France’s laws on head coverings, the Tory party’s unexamined racisms, hate speech and other key issues.
So where is their righteous rage over Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Iran’s other repressive acts against political opponents and feminists? When Iranian women who refused enforced hijabs were beaten and imprisoned, usually voluble British Muslims said nothing. Nothing too has been said about Sotoudeh.
The sound of silence has been maintained about Princess Shamsa, daughter of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who ran off to Cambridge, was found in 2000 and taken back to Dubai and has never been seen since, and Princess Latifa, another of his daughters, who was returned to her country after an audacious escape.
In March 2020, a British High Court ruling concluded the two women had been abducted and that their father had not been open or honest with the court. Just last month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, ex-cricketeer and once the playboy of the Western world, blamed Hollywood and Bollywood for widespread sexual crimes against women in Pakistan, and advised females to cover up and segregate themselves. Feminists and lawyers hit back at the hypocrite – but again, most British Muslims buried their heads in the sand.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is shocking. Their prisons are full of political prisoners and women who refuse to obey sexist rules. Torture, amputations and executions are common. Bangladesh routinely jails dissidents, political idealists and journalists. Egypt is incarcerating countless blameless citizens. Turkey is too. One Egyptian female refugee who was tortured and raped in prison asked me: “Is violence against Muslims only a problem if white people are the oppressors? Is it OK if Muslims oppress Muslims? What morality is this?”
That, as they say, is the question, and one that burns way within me. More Muslims are demeaned by, repressed by, harmed by or killed by their religious brethren than by those of other faiths or no faith.
I did ask members of powerful Muslim organisations in this country about this lack of engagement. Not enough resources, one replied, no comment said the Muslim Council of Britain, while another said they did not involve themselves in foreign affairs because bad stuff is going on in too many Muslim countries.
Baroness Helena Kennedy and Peter Tatchell have agitated against authoritarian Muslim leaders for years. Amnesty International and other good white folk have done that too. Brave citizens in the most oppressed Muslim states take on the powerful. Yet British Muslims, living in safety, remain disengaged.
Am I being unfair? No. You cannot be selective when it comes to human rights. Am I encouraging racists? No. Racists need no encouragement. I am asking British Muslims to ditch ethnic and faith loyalties and campaign for Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other victims of Muslim tyrants. Because it is the right and moral thing to do.