Panama Papers cause Guardian to collapse into self-parody


by Kit

Capture of the Guardian's totally accidentally misleading headline. Capture of the Guardian’s totally accidentally misleading headline.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, given the above picture, that the Panama Papers had something to do with Vladimir Putin. Maybe he was a kingpin of the whole thing. Maybe he was, at least, among the 12 world leaders implicated in various shady financial practices – along with Petro Poroshenko, the saviour of Ukrainian democracy, and the King of Saudi Arabia (dad of the recent Légion d’Honneur winner).

Luke Harding, a bastion of ethical journalism (and not at all a paranoid lunatic), has churned out 2 articles totaling over 5000 words, each using the word “Putin”, almost as often as they use the phrases “allegedly”, “speculation suggests”, “has been described as” and “may have been”.

Neither of his articles mentions by name any of the 12 world leaders, past and present, actually identified in the documents, nor do…

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Conversations from my flight to Sana’a

As I sat at Dubai’s Terminal 2 waiting to board my flight to Sana’a, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a nervous jiggle in my feet and butterflies in my stomach. Even after months of research and reassurances talking to journalists and embassies, I thought what if just what it something did go wrong. 

And then I started to see different nationalities arrive at our boarding gate at the Emirates Terminal 2. A majority were Yemenis’ – smart-looking businessmen, students, and professionals. Among them, surprisingly,  were a few Europeans, a British national, and three Americans. I’d like to think they were here for work, since its unlikely anyone would visit for tourism given the recent embassy warnings and unstable political situation.

And slowly as we drew closer to departure 15 – 20 men arrived, starting to look slightly unfamiliar, all donned in traditional Yemeni dress or ‘thoobs’ as they call it here. The ‘Jambiyyas’ or daggers were absent. Could they be tribesmen? Could my journey end before it has even started? In my state of panic, I had several questions racing through my mind. 


And when I got to my seat, a friendly Yemeni businessman travelling with his family, now running his oil business in Sana’a,  helped me tuck away my luggage. 

 First time to Yemen,” he asked.  “Yes” I replied. 

“You will love it,” he said. 

 I’m sure”, even if I felt slightly confused by now after looking at the group of men donning frighteningly long beards. 

The business man said that he was quite surprised to see a few western-looking people on the flight despite the severe travel warnings issued by the foreign embassies. 

By now, I started to get cold feet again. 

It was early morning. I hadn’t slept for more than 24 hours, and so I rest my weary head against a pillow and fell asleep no sooner  the flight took off. I stared outside the window and looked into the clouds, and when I woke I had forgotten where I was.  

‘Mushroom omelette’ or ‘scrambled eggs’ the air-hostess asked. “Water,” I replied. And she dropped me a tray of breakfast that was surprisingly healthy. 

To my right, was an Indian-looking woman to my right. I was curious to find out if she was Yemeni or Indian. The relationship between Yemen and India dates back to a few centuries ago because of the flourishing trade. But more on that later.

I asked her about kidnapping. And she smiled reassuring me  “its not as bad as it seems”. So I wanted to know how long was she in the capital? “18 years” and my jaw dropped. She was a Professor at the University of Santa.

By now we had landed. And she said, If in six months, if you dont have a different opinion, I will be very surprised.” 




Are British MP’s to blame for inciting hatred?

The British have long prided themselves on being a tolerant society. My experience of studying and marrying a native gave me a unique insight into their love for queues, music, and refusal to kick up a fuss instantly. Infact,they are quite a simple lot – harmless, witty, theatre-going,  a bit delusional about expectations of the English football team; in love with their pubs, banter, curry, and fish and chips.

Yet, when we read the papers or hear the local radio, watch television or social media – there are innumerable references to class, headscarves, halal meat, Islamic extremism, and the latest controversy – desire to punch a Muslim woman.

Just the other night, Tory MP Michael Fabricant took to twitter and said he would punch well-known journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai. Fabricant made the violent comment while watching an impassioned debate on Channel 4 with Brown and Former Radio 4 editor, Rod Liddle, discussing the release of his new book, ‘Selfish Whining Monkeys: How we Ended Up Greedy, Narcissistic and Unhappy.


What’s interesting is that the tweet has been retweeted 611 times and favorited by 344 people. Does this validate the idea, its okay to commit violence against a woman just because you don’t agree with her views?

In response to a Channel 4 tweet, yet again, Fabricant refers to Yasmin as ‘ghastly’ and talks about his reluctance to view BBC Question Time as a result of her regular appearance.


Fabricant apologised, but insisted Brown was utterly infuriating and he could never appear on a discussion programme with her.

In another instance, the potrayal in the media of a frenzied Islamic agenda in British schools compelled the Prime Minister to define ‘British values’.

A new investigation carried out by Ofsted, Birmingham City councils and  Education Funding Authority, alleges hard-line Muslims are set to “take over” schools in Birmingham. The Trojan Horse letter alleged a socially conservative sect of Muslims were trying to get their own members on to governing bodies and ousting head teachers. But Inside story on Al Jazeera uncovered a different side. The so called  ‘Trojan Horse’ letter was unsigned and undated, with some claiming it to be a hoax.

Yet, that didn’t stop Tory MP and Education Secretary Michael Gove from  insisting on ‘British values’ to be inculcated in schools across England.

Has Gove acted foolishly? Is there any evidence to prove  extremism is predominant in schools around England? Or is it another example of MP’s at the forefront of a distasteful Islamophobia campaign?

When asked about British  values during a visit to Sweden, David Cameron  said,

“I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions – those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.”

There’s no harm in articulating the British institution and its values. However, when done as a counter-attack to alleged extremism in schools, based on a document that can’t be verified, the move can be viewed as antagonistic.  In trying to perpetuate values, British politicians are unwittingly creating a theme of ‘them and us’ by excluding a certain section of society.

Less eyebrows would be raised if it was the British National Party or some right wing propagandist. But when it is Oxbridge-educated, self-proclaimed liberalist MP’s that claim equality, liberty and ‘the big society’ are at the the heart of their campaign, something’s incurably wrong.

Especially at  a time where the ‘war on terror’ is a critical issue in the Middle East, and British jihadists are involved, MP’s should do more to subsume all sections of society than provoke anger.

10 words in Hindi that mean the same in Arabic

I love languages and I love words.

What I particularly enjoy is dissecting, contemplating and debating about the origin of words; and how some words made its way into another culture over the centuries.

After learning and using six languages, it’s safe to say, you are just revising and connecting the dots.

Of this, I am convinced having spent six months in Kings College trying to get my Arabic scripting and conversation skills up to speed. During the process, I discovered several similarities between Arabic, Latin and Hindi. I was interested to find out more about the connection between Hindi and Arabic.


To start with I can recall the whole experience filled with exasperation. Sometimes, how easy it is to forget what it is to be a three-year-old; where you struggle to read, let alone write.There are days where I wanted to rip the book apart and give up, because the thought about failing was so much more painful than actual defeat itself. However, I also recall it’s the same thought that drove me to persist.

I continued to drag myself to evening class, on some days exhausted after work thinking; ‘why do I write right to left’; ‘why are the description to nouns inversed and why do all plural nouns become feminine’; ‘why do the placement of dots on the alphabets make all the difference to sound’; Does it really matter if it’s above or below. But thankfully, with the 101 questions I had, Najwa (my Iraqi teacher) patiently stood there empathizing with our frustration and answering them all.

It’s been six months since, im not anywhere close to comprehending Al Jazeera Arabic news or follow a conversation between two Arabs on the tube even if I am desperately trying to eavesdrop. I can only start to feel like I’ve just about begun to string a sentence together. In my spare time, I try and hangout at the Arabic bread shops in Kilburn, and drag Leo to Edgware road for Arabic food. So much for immersing myself in the experience.

What’s kept me intrigued in the process is the strong resemblance Arabic has to Hindi, Persian or Urdu. Samuel Johnson from the Economist suggests this could be a union at birth, something I am yet to do discover. In the meanwhile, here’s ten words that use the same meaning for Arabic and Hindi. And if you know of any others, feel free to add to this list @piccolinanne.


















Drink / drunk

Sharab/ Sharabi (  meaning ‘drunk’)



Master/ boss
















Waiting/ to wait








Not everyone’s looking forward to Christmas


Look around you – it’s hard resisting the festive spirit. The city swamped in starry lights, non-stop chatter on radio about plans for the holiday season, and TV advertisements imploring us to ‘give’, and ‘make it just that extra special for someone’.

‘Tis the season to be jolly, they say, but there’s not much room in big brand advertising for the symbolism of the birth of Christ, or the charitable traditions of Christmas…. so what really is Christmas?

A few weeks ago, a group of colleagues from work and I took a break from the self-indulgent nature of Christmas when we were invited to spend the day with young disadvantaged children at a primary school in South London.

Together with Kids Company – a charity that provides practical, educational and emotional support to children around London, we organised six different activities from cupcake dressing and face-painting, to making cards and playing musical chairs.

The volunteers dressed up as Santa’s elves, Christmas trees, and a Christmas pudding. Of the Santas, one in particular was effortlessly jolly and the other had a sophisticated hand wave. The elves and trees were cheerful throughout the day and made sure the kids had enough to eat and drink.

As a Christmas pudding, I was tasked with face painting. Nervous at first, I gradually got better with every butterfly and lion, and excelled in Superman faces. I just hoped nobody would want ‘Lady Gaga’.

While having their faces painted, some of the kids engaged in conversation, but others preferred to stay quiet and concentrate on the final outcome. Many left satisfied, recommending to their friend and pointing to the face-painting desk. It wasn’t long before we heard another ‘Miss, I would like a butterfly.’

‘Are you looking forward to Christmas?’ I asked Jeff, a seven year old boy (name changed). There was a hesitation followed by a soft whisper ‘No’.

The feeling of anxiety before Christmas is not unique to young children. Yesterday, at Crisis – a shelter that welcomes rough sleepers and people without families – there was an elderly lady, perhaps in her early sixties, apprehensive about idea of spending the day on her own. ‘Without public transport, don’t think I could make it to the centre, and I’m not sure what I’d do by myself apart from smoke cigarettes, she said wistfully.

For all that X’mas has to offer – Christmas markets, festive treats et al, I became slightly confused about the spirit of Christmas.

While Covent Garden saw festive shoppers indulge in the festive spirit, the world of young children at Kids Co. and Crisis was a far cry from what I see every day.

Perhaps the idea of Santa Claus is a fictional character that some children only see in films.  While speaking with the Kids Co. volunteers, we were informed a majority of the children at the school were emotionally abused, homeless and from troubled backgrounds.

‘A significant proportion of children find Christmas a struggle and this is further exacerbated by pre-existing financial difficulties in their families,’ said Jasmina Stosic from Kids Company. ‘These children don’t come from stable homes.
They have to make choices between paying the gas bills and celebrating
Christmas,’ she added.

Similarly volunteers at Crisis are up against the odds in trying to accommodate most guests as there has been a 43 per cent increase in homeless people since the last year.

Recent statistics released by Joseph Rowntree Foundation show child poverty in the UK has fallen to 27 per cent, its lowest rate for almost 25 years. However Jasmina said, ‘That frankly is misleading, we are looking after more than 36,000 children, and the number is growing.’

I recalled what Dr. Seuss had said in How the Grinch stole Christmas: “Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!  What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

With more than 30,000  children anxious about the holiday season, and a significant rise in people without a roof above their head, we could probably all afford to do a little bit more, either with our time or our money, to benefit those for whom Christmas offers no consolation from daily life.

Nobody said it would be easy – but not forgetting those most in need at Christmas time will mean more smiles on children’s faces all year round.