Category: Featured

Dear Right Hon Amber Rudd, MP,

The Independent Review on Sharia: Sharia Laws are part of the extremist threat and not a solution

As black and minority women and human rights campaigners, we voice our dismay at the outcome of the inde pendent review on Sharia laws commissioned by the government in 2016. Although the government has rejected formal recognition (through regulation), the way has been left open for the Sharia courts to continue to exist in a no-man’s land where they continue to produce discriminatory parallel laws while posing as an acceptable alternative dispute mechanism. Now they will be strengthened by a review that has endorsed their existence.

At the outset, we feared a whitewash but what we have seen is worse. The review is superficial, narrow and secretive; and completely lacks credibility. We protested when the Home Office appointed a theologian to lead the review and two Imams as advisers. How absurd that the Home Office now claims that the review ‘was not tasked with considering theological issues, for example whether Islam and Sharia law treat women in an unequal way’. Why then appoint three people whose only qualification for the job was their status as religious scholars?

Any review that is based on interviewing only eight women and a handful of organisations; and that provoked a boycott from most of the organisations that deal with women adversely affected by religious laws, cannot be considered legitimate. Demands for the acceptance of Sharia laws to govern family matters are part of a wider fundamentalist and ultra conservative goal to normalise profoundly misogynist values in the law and other public spaces. Our front-line experience has found clear evidence that both the intent and the process of the Sharia courts is abusive and discriminatory; that the Sharia bodies are run by organisations with links to extremist organisations; and promote the full range of fundamentalist goals such as strict gender segregation, imposition of hijabs and other dress codes, homophobia, bigotry and discrimination against non-Muslims and Muslim dissenters, blasphemy laws and attacks on apostates.

Our research also shows that they do refer to ‘courts’ and ‘Judges’, because of a clear intention of establishing themselves as a parallel law which ‘good Muslims’ must adhere to. The review suggests that that they are ‘Councils’ only and thus sanitises them.

In order to arrive at its conclusions, the reviewers conducted no investigation and ignored evidence that would have undermined their conclusions. They ignored the wider political fundamentalist drive to undermine human rights. They also ignored a considerable body of evidence submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament by members of our coalition and others. For instance, Maryam Namazie submitted two statements in evidence which contained details of statements made by Islamic law ‘Judges’, that exposed their wider political agenda. Knowing that hate speech and discriminatory speech is regularly erased from websites once it has been exposed, she had taken screenshots of their statements. She stated in conclusion, ‘despite all efforts to package Sharia’s civil code as mundane, its imposition represents a concerted attempt by Islamists to gain further influence in Britain’. If the reviewers did not wish to draw on our submissions, they could have applied some diligence and researched it themselves. Why did they not do so?

The coalition also gathered detailed testimony from many women. Unlike the reviewers, we did not ask for evidence solely from women who had experience of sharia courts, although we met and interviewed many who had tried to get a divorce under ‘sharia law’, were deeply traumatised by the experience and experienced further violence and abuse of their rights. We also published and put in evidence to parliament, a devastating letter signed by over 300 abused and marginalised women from all religious backgrounds expressing their fear of being controlled by religious laws.

Sweeping statements are made about the “choice” that Muslim women make to approach such councils without giving any consideration to the highly constrained religious context in which that “choice” is made. The review is utterly silent on the crucial concept of ‘zina’ (sex outside marriage), the grave sin punishable by death in many Muslim countries. It is fear of ‘zina’ which compels many women, even those with civil divorces to seek an Islamic divorce. Procedural changes in sharia councils will not diminish their role in spreading this concept; to which they provide the only ‘solution’. That is why use of Sharia bodies is increasing. Evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee makes clear that fundamentalists insist that a civil divorce cannot be final. Yet earlier generations of women had civil marriage (as well as a Muslim marriage contract) and were satisfied with a civil divorce. Increased religious bullying is a major reason for women’s recourse to sharia, not simply their ‘conscience’. Indeed, the form of Sharia which the theologians of the panel have failed to challenge is much more regressive than Muslim personal laws in Muslim majority countries.

Unlike the review, we have shown that women cannot engage with Sharia Councils or the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal in relation to their divorce without this also impacting on their rights and freedoms in other areas. Our research shows that Sharia Courts/ Councils deal with more than divorce – they impose ‘mediation’, promote polygamy and child marriage, and interfere with child custody and criminal proceedings in relation to domestic violence. The review made no serious attempt to investigate these issues.

The review stands in direct contrast to the devastating observations made by Dame Louise Casey in her report in 2016 “women in some communities are facing a double onslaught of gender inequality, combined with religious, cultural and social barriers preventing them from accessing even their basic rights as British residents.”

A forensic examination of the operation of Sharia in Britain lays bare what fundamentalists do to achieve their goals, not merely what they think. We do not accuse them simply of ‘thought crimes’ but of promoting crimes and human rights violations.

The review is a botched attempt at consultation established with flawed terms of reference and an explicit disregard for gender discrimination. The government and the reviewers have failed the women most affected and ignored the concerns of rights advocates.

We will be providing a more detailed submission. Meanwhile, we call on you, as Home Secretary, to ensure that none of the recommendations contained in the review are implemented without consultation with those advocates who are able to make clear connections with extremism, fundamentalism and inequality. The government has, so far, failed in its duty to make an equality impact assessment, which it needs to do with the full weight of evidence before it. Continued indifference to the government’s duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights will leave us in no doubt that there is no change to the social contract in which women’s rights are traded off as part of a process of appeasement of fundamentalists and extremists.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Gita Sahgal and Yasmin Rehman, Co-Directors, Centre for Secular Space
Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters
Diana Nammi, Executive Director, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
Houzan Mahmoud, Culture Project
Sadia Hameed, Spokesperson, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Rumana Hashem, Human Rights Advocate
Nasreen Rehman, Human Rights Advocate
Gina Khan, Spokesperson, One Law for All
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson, One Law for All

 

The Council of Ex Muslims of Britain (CEMB) was protesting against World Hijab Day outside the Iranian embassy on the Wednesday 31st January 2018.

World hijab Day takes place every year on the 1st February and countless non-Muslim women don the hijab, without knowing or caring what is stands for. However, during the current protests in Iran, countless brave and fearless women in Iran are tearing off this symbol of oppression and there has been complete silence from western feminists.

Vida Movahed has become the iconic image of the current movement, in revolt of the mandatory hijab laws of Iran, she removed her veil and was stood with it on a stick, inspiring other women and later some men to also photographing themselves with their hijabs on sticks.

CEMB’s protest was originally organised to coincide with Masih Alinejad’s White Wednesday campaign, ahead of World hijab Day, however, with the current situation in Iran, CEMB also felt it important to stand in solidarity with women like Vida. So on the 31st January 2018, CEMB created the # I AM VIDA campaign. We are asking everyone to photograph themselves as Vida did, to show the women of Iran, they are not alone, we hear them and we stand in solidarity with them. We will not back down, we will lobby your government to stop oppressive mandatory hijab laws.

Say No to Quran 4:34 – #Quran434NoMore

To mark 25 November, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, ex-Muslims from CEMB, Atheist Republic, Ex-Muslims of Jordan, Muslimish and other groups called for the rejection of verse 4:34 in the Quran which promotes violence against women.

There is no place for inciting violence against women even if it is based on religious text. The Quran is no exception.

Religiously sanctioned violence against women is still violence against women.

Say No to Quran 4:34. #Quran434NoMore

Reject this verse.

 

God: A Human History – a rescue attempt by Reza Aslan, The Freethinker, 23 November 2017

‘Religion scholar’ Reza Aslan’s new book, God: A Human History, traces the human relationship with gods from the Palaeolithic, Greek, and Egyptian eras to the rise of  Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Aslan’s history highlights the ongoing compulsion to attribute human characteristics to gods over millennia and blames God’s poor image on this “dangerous” humanisation. It’s not God that is jealous or vengeful, he says, but our “nature” and “penchant for violence”.

Luckily for God, Aslan is here to rescue Him.

Gods and religions have caused so much distress that even those who have spent a lifetime apologising for and ignoring the doctrinal foundations of their abuses must make for a rescue attempt.

Historically, as documented by Aslan, gods and religions have been a way of explaining the unexplainable (such as earthquakes or failed hunts). Despite the evidence, however, Aslan says our “brains are hard-wired” for religion and that religion is “inherent” in children. He is a man of faith after all.

But belief in religion or God is not an hard-wired evolutionary trait but more likely a by-product of non-religious functions. Scientist Richard Dawkins uses the example of a moth burning itself on a flame to explain this; the moth does this not because of an evolutionary instinct for suicide but as a by-product of steering via moonlight.

Clearly, God is perceived in the image of man not because of anything inherent in us but because he is man-made.  Children believe in God not because they are born believers but because of indoctrination from the day they are born and ongoing physical and psychological abuse such as faith schools, child veiling and gender segregation deemed acceptable only because of religion’s privileged position in all societies.

That religions and Gods still hold sway in the 21st century despite advances in science is simply because of their continued usefulness in maintaining class, gender and social inequalities and injustices and suppressing our dreams and our hopes for a better life in the here and now.

Religions and Gods persist because they remain the best tools of the powerful to control the uncontrollable, including “disobedient” women and children.  This is the crux of why God still sells books and makes fortunes – even though there is no God (la ilaha …).

Aslan’s book is naturally brief (the footnotes are similar in length to the entire book). It has to be given his inclination to erase the murder and mayhem carried out in God’s name and his sanitisation of religion as mere “language” and a “set of symbols and metaphors”.

And as is always the case with Aslan, Islam gets the easiest of passes. The tiny Islam chapter selectively focuses on Sufi-ism; Mohammed, Islam’s prophet, is unrecognisable as a social justice type rather than a war-mongering misogynist.

Aslan’s book ends with a plea for the “dehumanisation” of God and for Pantheism (meaning All is God and God is All). His plea is labelled “bold” and “provocative” by his publishers though it is just another old and tired way of looking at God that is neither bold nor provocative.

In a world drowning in religions and gods, it is hard-pressed to see how Pantheism will bring “peace amongst religions” and change things for the better as the author promises. Given Aslan’s proclivity for self-promotion, Pantheism will certainly change things for him; he can keep repeating the last lines of his book in a mirror: “You need not fear God. You are God”.

Meanwhile, whilst Aslan re-packages the same old God in order to rescue him, what will rescue us? Well, certainly not more religion or gods but rather laïcité(the separation of religion and the state) and an end to religious indoctrination and abuse of children.

IQ – 1 December 2017

INTRODUCTION

These suggestions are primarily aimed at people that find themselves in need of greater security, privacy and anonymity for their electronic communications. They assume that your computer is running a version of MS Windows, but again the suggestions can apply to other operating systems or platforms that have similar software.

There is no such thing as a 100% secure communication over an electronic medium such as the global internet or telephony network. Many of the suggestions here do provide varying levels of security, privacy and anonymity (SPA). When these tools are implemented properly and used in conjunction with each other, your personal SPA will be greatly improved. By covering your tracks, you can reduce your chances of being on the receiving end of any unpleasantness. Needless to say, great care must be taken with your communications. Even with all the security in place, your SPA can still be compromised by the use of weak passphrases, the opening of attachments from unknown senders, inserting USB drives of dubious origins into your computer systems or careless revelations of identifiable details. The user (ie. you) is often the weakest link. Do stay safe by practising safe computing.

Disclaimer

This is not a complete guide and not all software is covered. Under no circumstances shall the author or CEMB be liable for direct, indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages resulting from the use, misuse, or inability to use the software, even if the author or CEMB has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Ensure you’ve received the permission of the owner or operator of the computer or other devices before attempting any of the suggestions in this article. Use at your own risk.

Although not covered here, you may wish to invest in a number of Faraday pouches or bags to shield your mobile devices from surveillance or theft.

MOBILE DEVICES

Before you can secure your mobile devices it behooves you to reconsider your approach to contact management which can make things easier during subsequent steps. Although this contact management step is optional, it’s highly recommended. The majority of mobile devices run versions of either the Apple iOS or Google Android operating systems. You need to start by updating your contacts. If they are linked / synchronised with an email address (eg. Gmail), then log in to your email account (on a PC) and update your contacts from there. All changes will then propagate to your linked devices.

To update your contacts, change all telephone numbers to the proper international (E.164/ENUM) format. For example, consider the British phone number 07123 456789, you need to do the following to it:

  1. Drop all leading zeroes.
  2. Remove all non-numeric characters.
  3. Prepend the relevant country code.

The British phone number 07123 456789 will become +447123456789. This is the preferred format so update the telephone numbers for as many of your contacts as you can. Get into the habit of storing numbers in this format. Make a note of your own number in this format, you’ll need it later.

Always apply all software or operating system updates as soon as they become available. These include much needed security fixes. If you’re confident and are technically proficient, you may replace the device’s operating system with a custom one like LINEAGE OS, REPLICANT or RESURRECTION REMIX.

For secure encrypted messaging and calling for Android and iOS devices, go to SIGNAL and follow the link to install the SIGNAL PRIVATE MESSENGER application. This is a free, open-source application that makes use of your smartphone’s mobile data connection or wifi calling features. Note that this application is meant to replace your existing default messaging application. You will need to complete a short activation process using your own mobile number (in the above international format), then you’ll be good to go.

Another application to note for your mobile device is ORBOT. This lets you route your internet browsing over the TOR network. A good privacy-oriented browser is TENTA. There are desktop versions of some of the encrypted instant messaging applications below.

Modify each of your wifi network connections (or better still your router, see below) to ensure that you use the IP addresses at the bottom of the TENTA DNS SETUP GUIDE as your DNS, unless you decide to use OPENDNS or SIMPLE DNSCRYPT (see below).

Disable the wifi and location features if you’re in a public place and they’re not needed, this can easily be done by temporarily enabling the airplane or flight mode feature. Ensure that you encrypt your mobile device. This may take some time, you may want to ensure your device is charging during this crucial step and shouldn’t be interrupted. Afterwards, enable PIN / Passcodes and even SIM PIN and Voicemail PIN to further secure your smartphone.

Before you sell or dispose of your mobile device:

  1. Backup / export all your personal or important information (files, images, contacts, etc) to your encrypted cloud or any other external storage.
  2. Delink your device from your Apple or Gmail account.
  3. Delete all images or other personal files from your device.
  4. Clear all messaging and call history, including any notifications and search or browsing history.
  5. Clear all contacts and password keys from your mobile device, inc. SIM.
  6. Uninstall as many apps as you can, inc. clearing SD storage.
  7. Forget all networks or wireless access points.
  8. Ensure that you then encrypt your mobile device again.
  9. Perform a hard reset of your mobile device.
  10. You may then remove the SIM card and battery (if possible), then physically destroy the mobile device if you wish to dispose of it.

For additional security, consider enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) for various online services using a suitably secure authenticator application (avoid 2FA via SMS). An online guide to securing your iPhone is also available here: SECURE YOUR IPHONE.

DESKTOP / LAPTOP COMPUTERS

If you’re truly concerned that your privacy may have been compromised, don’t use your own computer. Go to an internet cafe or other public service such as a library and use the computer there if you can. Otherwise you should be reasonably safe by using your own computer with the following suggestions.

Avoid using versions of MS Windows; these are a relatively non-secure set of Operating Systems. Try to use secure distributions of Linux such as QUBES OS (preferred), SUBGRAPH OS, KODACHI LINUX, PUREOS or TAILS, the latter can be copied to a USB drive (or optical media such as CD, DVDs, etc) and run on any suitable computer. KALI LINUX is a very useful operating system, geared more towards penetration testing and security auditing. Many of these Linux (and BSD) distributions can be run directly from optical media or USB so you can use them before installing anything on your computer. Take the time to learn about open-source operating systems, start by bookmarking the DISTROWATCH site.

If you’re running a version of MS Windows, encrypt your hard drive (or at the very least the partition / drive that holds your personal files). You can use VERACRYPT.

If you’ve access to the router and can update its settings, log in to it using your computer’s web browser then note the existing DNS IP addresses and write these down in case you need to undo this step. These would be the addresses for your Internet Service Provider’s DNS. Consider changing the existing DNS IP addresses to ones provided by OPENNIC PROJECT, OPENDNS or TENTADNS:

  • 99.192.182.100
  • 66.244.159.100
  • 99.192.182.200
  • 66.244.159.200

Save your updated configuration then restart your router.

If you don’t have access to your router or are unable to update your DNS configuration, then you should use SIMPLE DNSCRYPT on your computer. Remember to modify your adapter settings (via your Control Panel > Network Connections or type ncpa.cpl from the command line, then update IPv4) to ensure that the preferred DNS is set to 127.0.0.1. Once this is configured then go to the following site, you should see a welcome page with an orange tick: AM I USNG OPENDNS?

You may also test whether your computer is leaking your DNS queries, with instructions how to resolve them here: DNS LEAK TEST.

A good free anti-malware and firewall will help keep out any intruders. On MS Windows, a good firewall is GLASSWIRE. On Linux, a good firewall is PFSENSE.

If you want to make use of the Cloud to store your personal files, then opt for secure zero-knowledge services like TRESORIT or even ORC.

To make use of the various anonymisation networks, you can install either:

They may need some configuration but they are recommended if you wish to conduct your online communications anonymously. Take great care to configure them as a Relay, not as an Exit Node. Many well-known social media and other hidden services, including illicit services, are accessible via these anonymisation networks which provide improved end-to-end security.

A very useful application is BATCHPURIFIER. This tool can help remove your hidden information or metadata from multiple files (eg. photos or images). The metadata can be used to trace when, where and how the file was created (among other things). Removing all this information from files before you store or share them will greatly aid your security, privacy and anonymity (SPA).

To hide your messages in other files, you can use free steganography software like:

Share these modified files by first uploading them to an anonymous service (see below).

Another great application is KEEPASS PASSWORD SAFE. This is a free, open-source password manager that lets you store your many passwords securely. There are versions for Android and iOS for use on mobile devices.

Email is a very important service for many reasons. Presently there are many email service providers that offer varying levels of security. However, most suffer from one significant flaw: their metadata is sent with the message in clear text. This does not bode well for your SPA. As a result of recent events, efforts are underway to completely redesign email for the modern era with intrinsic security known as Email 3.0.

The DARK MAIL TECHNICAL ALLIANCE is leading the effort, however the protocols have a name: DIME. To date, there is one provider offering DIME emails: LAVABIT

But what if you’re unable to use the new DIME email services? There is a simple process that you can use to communicate using any email service. Here’s how it works:

  1. Person A registers with a new email account and notes the login credentials (ie. username and password).
  2. Person A logs in and drafts a message, but does not send it. The message is saved in the drafts folder.
  3. Person A logs out.
  4. Person A gives the login credentials to their trusted contact Person B, in person.
  5. Person B then logs in to the same email account.
  6. Person B can then read the saved message from Person A in the drafts folder, then deletes it.
  7. Person B replies by creating a new message and saving that into the drafts folder.
  8. Person B logs out.
  9. Person A can then log back in and read the saved message from Person B before composing a reply as above.

This communication can take place without a single message being emailed through any server or domain, which makes surveillance very difficult. This requires the participants to access the same email account and some degree of coordination between them. Also, remember to change your email settings to disallow tracking and other so-called features. There are many helpful tips available online, specifically how to improve your email’s SPA.

Your browsers are important too. The two major browsers are GOOGLE CHROME and MOZILLA FIREFOX. If your Operating System is a 64-bit OS, use 64-bit versions of these browsers. Firefox is recommended for security. There are many other browsers you may wish to consider, eg. TENTA. Be sure to keep them updated and configured properly at all times.

There are many useful applications, settings and browser tests detailed in PRIVACY TOOLS, RESTORE PRIVACY and HOW’S MY TLS. You may also test whether your browser is protected against online tracking techniques, instructions how to resolve them here: PANOPTICLICK.

Set your home pages in all browsers to either DUCKDUCKGO, STARTPAGE or QWANT and also bookmark and use the following sites:

The OTR site lets you send self-destructing messages and files to your contacts, anonymously. A facility for encrypted chat is also available. This is purely browser-based, no installation of any software is necessary. In each browser you should search for and install the following extensions / add-ons / plugins:

There are also free applications that can be downloaded and installed for secure instant messaging:

You should also consider using services or extensions that function as secure VPNs such as:

These let you route your browsing activities through virtual private networks or remote proxies located in different jurisdictions. Do not access your email, financial or other personal sites through them, unless they have sufficient security in place, nor should you use any untrusted proxy with handling your personal business (ie. those that require login credentials or financial information). The OTR site for secure and anonymous real-time communication is recommended. Ensure that whichever browser you use, you’re familiar with its Incognito or Private Browsing Mode and that it’s configured to clear its cache automatically when it’s closed.

Further information is contained in this excellent article: THE ULTIMATE PRIVACY GUIDE.

After emptying your computer’s Recycle Bin, you may use some useful MS Windows commands, eg. CIPHER ensures that no deleted file in a directory can be recovered.

Other useful software:

  • RING – Alternative to Skype.
  • MASTODON – Alternative to Twitter.
  • DISCORD – Alternative to Skype and TeamSpeak.
  • LIBREOFFICE – Alternative to Microsoft Office.
  • ETCHER – Burn images to SD Cards and USB drives.
  • ZULU – Alternative to Oracle Java SDK.

There is a great deal of information available regarding counter surveillance that couldn’t be included because it’s outside the scope of this article.

SUMMARY

On mobile devices, secure communication is of the utmost importance. Install the free open-source application SIGNAL on your smartphone. There is also a version of Signal available for desktop computers. Phone encryption and periodic clearance of search and location histories are advised. Set a strong passphrase and the remote lock, locate and erase feature.

On computers, many tools can be installed but some websites like OTR can be accessed by any modern browser. Check your browser’s privacy and security settings and schedule it to clear your entire cache and history (especially when your browser is closed) periodically. Limit your cached web content to 0MB and enable tracking protection. Ensure you sign up to a DIME-compliant email service. Updating your DNS / Router settings is highly recommended. Harden your social media privacy settings (SECURE FACEBOOK or FACEBOOK PRIVACY) by placing your associates in distinct groups and setting their permissions accordingly, or better yet try to keep your presence on social media to a minimum. Remember to log out of every site you have logged into when you are done. Be aware that an increasing quantity of your personal information, contacts, views, habits and locations can be scraped from your online presence and sold to third parties. If this point is of particular concern, consider using MASTODON.

Hopefully the information detailed here will help you cover your internet tracks more effectively and assure your personal safety.

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