Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Times’

The Times Takes Aim at Qatar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th August, 2019

The Times QatarIn an unusual move for a “quality” daily newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times of London has called on the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to investigate the paper’s findings in its investigation into alleged Qatari sponsorship of Islamist fundamentalism and has argued that the British government should isolate Qatar if the tiny Gulf state chooses to be “in opposition to the West”. This very much echoes the tone of the Gang of Four Arab states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt), which imposed sanctions on Qatar two years ago, listing a series of what they saw as offences, not least Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. At the centre of The Times’s investigation, however, is the client list of the Al Rayan Bank, which has over the past 15 years established itself as the largest and most effective provider of shariah-compliant financial products in Britain. Headquartered in Birmingham, the bank has around 85,000 customers, but The Times highlights 15 — notably several Islamic charities, as well as the satellite television station Peace TV — as having links with terrorist organisations or of advocating Islamist ideals and aims which undermine British values and norms. Some of the charities mentioned have indeed had their accounts frozen or closed by other banks, including Lloyds and HSBC, and The Times argues that Al Rayan — which is 70% owned by Masraf Al Rayan, Qatar’s second largest bank, and 30% by the investment arm of the country’s sovereign wealth fund — should do the same.

Al Rayan BankNo-one is suggesting that Al Rayan Bank is itself in violation of banking regulations; it has always complied with FSA/Financial Conduct Authority guidelines. Rather, it is the nature of some of its account holders, which range from the Finsbury Park mosque (formerly the base of radical preacher Abu Hamza, now in jail in the United States) and charities with links to Hamas. Some of those are currently the subject of investigation by the Charity Commissioners, just as Peace TV — which is a platform for extremist preacher Zakir Naik, who is banned from Britain — has been referred to Ofcom. But as I said in a couple of TV interviews for Sky News Arabia  this afternoon, by urging the British government to get directly involved, The Times is upping the ante considerably. The timing cannot be coincidental, as clearly the advent of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Priti Patel could be a game changer. But would Britain really go on the diplomatic offensive against Qatar, as the Gang of Four and their allies would like? Qatar is a huge investor in this country, owning flagship properties such as the Shard, Harrods and the Savoy Hotel — even a stake in British Airways. So far London has remained relatively neutral in the inter-Arab spat around the Gulf, but could that be about to change? What is certain is that not only will Al Rayan Bank be pleading its innocence in the affair but we can expect some heated ripostes from Doha as well.

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Peter Brookes: The Best of Times

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st August, 2011

There are many good reasons not to read the Times, Rupert Murdoch being the most obvious. But one of that newspaper’s best features for some years now has been the output of political cartoonist Peter Brookes. Like all the best of his breed, he is topical, irreverent and puts the boot in where it’s needed. Unlike some cartoonists, however, he draws charicatures that are clearly identifiable, no matter how far-fetched the distortion. I think particularly of his Nature Notes, which have, for example, featured Harriet Harman as a praying mantis, Nicolas Sarkozy as a cockerel on stilts and Hazel Blears as a snail. No-one of any political party or natonality is free from his humorous barbs. Fortunately, every so often his very best cartoons appear in beautifully reproduced full-colour collections such as the one I have been savouring this afternoon: The Best of Times… (JR Books, London, 2009; £15.99). Peter Brookes holds no-one sacred, be it the Pope, the Queen or Barack Obama. Moreover, his willingness to get right to the bone prompts outright guffaws, such as his drawing of a very smug Bill Clinton declaring: ‘Fellow Democrats, trust me! Would I ever leave a sour taste in you mouth?!’ Because the volume covers the final years of the last Labour government, both Tony Blair (over Iraq) and Gordon Brown (portrayed naked on a sofa, in a pastiche of Lucian Freud’s ‘Benefit Supervisor Sleeping’) get it in the neck. I particularly love the image of a manic Cherie Blair, with terrifying grin, typing her autobiography on an old-fashioned cash register. And there is an unfogettable image of John Prescott impaled by a croquet hoop on a croquet lawn while Peter Mandelson aims a ball straight between his legs. As Liberal Democrats were not yet in government, they don’t fgure very much in this collection, apart from poor old Ming Campbell drawn alongside a Thora Hird-style stair-lift and Nick Clegg as a bird called the Great Shag. But I am sure there will be lots for LibDems to groan and giggle over by the time the next collection of Peter Brookes’s work comes out.

Link: www.jrbooks.com

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UKIP Calls for Ban on Burqas

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th January, 2010

The leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — and its only Westminster parliamentarian — Lord Pearson of Rannoch has said that his party wishes to ban the wearing of the burqa or the niqab (full face veil) not only in public buildings, but in private ones too, if possible. ‘We are taking advice on how we could do it,’ he informed The Times. This puts UKIP even further to the right than the British National Party (BNP) on the issue, as the BNP has only called for a burqa ban in schools. Both are of course pandering to the irrational fears of a disenfranchised white working class which feels abandoned by the Labour Party and ignored by politicians in general. But some right-wing county types in the shires will doubtless also applaud UKIP’s stand on the issue. They will probably sympathise with Lord Pearson’s statement that UKIP wants to bring to the fore the issue of the alleged increasing influence of Shariah (Islamic law) in Britain. ‘We are not Muslim-bashing,’ he says. ‘but this is incompatible with British values of freedom and democracy.’

Apparently Lord Pearson is blind to the irony in that statement, as British values of freedom of democracy have at their core tolerance and diversity — both things that UKIP and the BNP clearly reject. Moreover, Lord Pearson’s claim that this is ‘not Muslim-bashing’ is disingenuous, as that is exactly how it will be seen by many of Britain’s Muslims.  The proposed burqa/niqab ban also gives a green light to racist bigots to insult and maybe even assault women wearing it, which alas already happens sometimes. I find it sad that some Muslim women (or their husbands/fathers/brothers, on their behalf) feel it necessary to cover their face completely — as opposed to wearing modest dress, which is what the Quran actually stipulates — but I respect their right to be able to do so in most public situations. There have to be some limited exceptions, of course, but these should indeed be the exception, not the rule. Many of my Bengali neighbours in Tower Hamlets habitutally wear the niqab when they leave the house. I wasn’t surprised that politicians in France (which is an officially secular nation) should call for a burqa ban, but it is depressing that a British political party — albeit one as loopy as UKIP — should be following suit and thereby fuelling the fire of community discord.

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