Thursday, 8 April 2010

Sif smells trouble!

If you’ve endured this blog for the bulk of its first year, you will doubtless remember my dabbling with the great Muslim secret that is/was, the Scottish Islamic Foundation (SIF).
Those who know me better advised against the same (and rightly so), but I’d attended a few of their seminars and was all hyped up on the clever hot air they spouted, and genuinely believed I could make a real difference! After all, the SIF is sadly the only representative body Muslims have North of the border, so why not get behind it! while it has its faults, and its leaders are known to have muddied their hands in the Ekhwan and the MCB, you can’t win em all! And who hasn’t screwed up a little at University!
My motivation for joining SIF was not purely humanitarian though, it did trouble me that the then newly Elected Nationalist Government had seen fit to grant the SIF over 400000£, and demanded little return or action on the said funds!
This might have had something to do with Osama Saeed’s budding SNP career, the proverbial: being in the right place at the right time! Besides, Osama would have known that the SNP have sadly a rather appalling track record when it comes to equality groups, he struck them in a weak point, and came out with a golden handshake!

Soon after the 2008 SIF conference I attended, an Email was circulated, requesting volunteers to join the SIF board of directors. This too impressed me: after all most Islamic organisations go down the ‘incestuous route! I immediately sent off my CV: I was on a mission too! I was certain SIF and its wahabi origins would have no shias on their board, and certainly no disabled people! I was right, and once again, Rosha saves the day by filling the appropriate box with the appropriate tick! But it suited me: I was fully aware of their assumptions, but knew they wouldn’t be aware of how completely I would crush each one!

At my first board meeting, I was troubled by how “in the family”, SIF was, more than 50% of board members came from Osama’s immediate family (or those soon-to-be admitted!), and when it came to electing office bearers, Family prevailed! I still remember the moment when the young Hamza Yusaf suggested I be vice chair! The room fell silent: people shifted awkwardly in their seats: (it was fine to have me tick a box, but what would a shia blind woman know about running an organisation, or worse still, she might ask questions, look at accounts: stuff of the family!), to their relief, another, more docile feminine candidate from the inner sanctum received more nominations than me, so the fledgling brotherhood could heave a sigh of relief once more!
I always felt like something of an anorak at SIF meetings: my voluntary sector experience meant I knew way too much about constitutions, funding, auditing and the like, and felt that the only way to get noticed here was to make allot of noise and keep my expectations high. I was listened to on the outset, but my only internal ally was Hamza Yusaf himself, and on his departure, the ‘family were happy to demote me to the box they had built for me. Each board member was allotted funding targets, (unsuspecting members of the community were to be signed up to pledge so much to SIF each month). While under normal circumstances I’d be expert at this, I fretted over how to bill it to people, after all, its not like they were getting much for their money! And despite the 400000 donation, SIF had delivered very little at that stage, were we really just to saunter up to people and say “hey, Osama needs cash!”. This got me wondering if all the speculation about SIF being feather bedding to cushion Osama’s nationalist aspirations was true. I then started demanding accounts, constitutions, all to my inbox by the end of the working week. None of this I received, instead, I was bombarded with invites to free training (some of which I used to teach), tackling the above topics! I refused to attend such patronising talking shops (and that too on Sunday mornings!), as did a number of the directors. I was angry at the fact that I had not been asked to deliver this stuff internally: if I had the governing papers in my hands, I would have been able to deliver bigger, better sessions, tailored to meet their needs!
I plodded on a little more, but quickly got bored of the inactivity SIF seemed comfortable to accept from me. Only 3 months in, I made my excuses and resigned from the board (along with a fair few others!).

I was more than a little bit relieved when my name was removed from the companies house records: what none of the directors seemed capable of registering, was that should the proverbial faeces hit the fan, we, as named directors and board members would be personally and collectively responsible for any debts, fraud or fowl play carried out by ‘the family, and I for one, didn’t want what little I had to be torn away by a SNP hopeful out for his jollies!!

I followed SIF for the months to come from a discreet distance. Osama Saeed continued to be attacked by the national press, sometimes for being a nationalist, other times for his salafi past, and increasingly because of his inability to manage SIF’s finances. The festivals he promised did take place at the beginning of this year, but in a very ramshackle manner, reminiscent of the programmes run by Osama and his brothers during their radical student Association days!
They organised countless fundraisers, some above board, (others completely bazaar, like the signed photo of Eric Cantana they were flogging at auction!) (er …, scraping the barrel me thinks?), but one fundamental question remained: what the H*** was happening to all the cash!
In February this year, SIF’s auditors produced a damming report regarding the state of SIF’s accounts. In particular, it drew on the fact that few of the donations received were appropriately documented, and that huge amounts of money simply no longer existed on the SIF systems: as though they never received them!
It was around this time that Tom Gordon of the Scottish Herald on Sunday took up the story. As an ardent supporter of the labour Sarwar’s, he had all the ammunition he needed to start framing Osama! Fuelled further when, just a week after the auditor’s verdict, Osama announced via Email to his members and supporters that he was standing down from the SIF with immediate affect! No explanation, no apology, one would have thought that the faithful who had kept him on a comfortable 40000 salary deserved a little better than a “hey I’m off” note!
The obvious explanation says that he leged it when he saw that he was likely to be hanged by the party, the public and his board alike for screwing the funds, but he justifies his departure by “needing to concentrate on winning the Glasgow Central seat”, (if you still have a seat to fight for mate!).

Today, the SNP faces pressure from the Muslim community and activists who are horrified at the 400000 that never was, to deselect Osama from the running, and conduct a full and thorough investigation in to SIF and the disappearing wonga!
Amidst all this, Osama updates his blog regularly, (‘the famous rolled up trousers!), while dodging requests for interview by the Jewish Chronicle and badgering from the aforementioned Tom Gordon!

My involvement you may ask? Ah well, this is where it gets interesting! Up to now, Osama has been happy to feed titbits to Tom Gordon in an effort to keep him at bay, the scathing character assassinations of the Sarwars and others posted on Osama’s blog provide entertainment enough, and testament to just how much he is feeling the pressure! But clearly with an election only a couple of months away, the papers need to get clever. If you’ve been following the articles, you know that Tom Gordon is in love with the labour mob, and spin alone will gain him few favours in a closely run contest such as this!
Never the less, it came as a surprise to me when I received an Email from Inclusion Scotland, telling me that Tom Gordon was looking for me? Maybe it was too early in the morning, or I was lost in a blond moment, but I stupidly linked the enquiry with the WC affair which lead to my own resignation, and was left puzzled by who had tipped him off and above all, why they would actually be providing me with his contacts to fill his ears!
As you will have doubtless guessed by now, Tom was out for dirt on the Saeed scenario! As a former director, he assumed I might have something of the inside story on what went wrong (perhaps an article on what went right would be more scintillating!). These situations are tricky, because, although you are itching to dish, you know you can’t say too much for fear of both Muslim and non-Muslim repercussions. Plus I only had unanswered questions myself, Osama had kept the rest pretty stitched up, especially from me (our paths had crossed a couple of times when I was at the BBC and he was busy building extremist support for a British Caliphate).

Now, all that is left to do is to sit back and wait for the article to hit the press this Sunday, and pray like hell I don’t end up with a group of Salafi Neds battling for my blood!

The whole saga does pose allot of interesting questions. Where IS that money! Why did the SNP give it in the first place? Did Osama know what was going on, is he exclusively responsible or should his collective go down with him? Does he warrant his SNP status or should he really be deselected? Is it right to expect any thing else from hard line activists like Osama? And should the SNP pay for throwing random cash at a former extremist without trying to tackle Muslim community relations internally?
Each of these is deserving of a post on its own, but the question I find myself returning to over and over again is, has Osama been framed?
It seems to me that it was convenient for the SNP to elevate him through the ranks to increase votes and detract from the popular Sarwars. The SIF would only serve to win them further q-dos with the intelligent and the activists, while giving Osama something convenient to do when not parading around in a kilt in a token attempt to demonstrate that “Brown People are Scottish Too!”.

While Osama might be naive, he is fairly sharp, and incredibly charming! It doesn’t take a genius to work out that he too ticks a box, just as he wanted me to do last year! As minorities, we often tick boxes, sometimes willingly, and other times unwillingly! But more often than not we enter a box believing that we can manipulate it to our own advantage, play the system as it were. Now that Osama’s game plan hasn’t worked, there are all too many waiting in line to stab him in the back! The Muslim community in particular rarely gets behind any one, and while people like Sarwar can count on the old and the newly migrated massive, Osama has a very tough nut to crack in terms of winning over the young and the English speaking Muslim audiences!
He has given up the comfort blanket that was SIF, and be assured the SNP will drop him like a hot exploding potato should any more dirt be dragged up about money, the brotherhood and all that lies between them. As easy as it is to say “he asked for it”, the more I reflect on his mistakes and his current position, the more uneasy I feel about the reactions being generated. I have sympathy with him: who’s to say I or any one else reading this wouldn’t have done the same with the right intentions, and then, when the chips are down, you can’t count on Muslims to either take responsibility for the fallout or to support the underdog when he/she is down!
And so it goes, good luck Osama, in every sense, Allah knows you are gonna need it during the weeks to come!
… (watch this space for The Sunday article and other updates as the drama unfolds).

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