Month June

  • Where have all the opinions gone?

    So, I’ve been writing this blog – this outpouring of personal thoughts and views – for the last four months, and I’ve been publishing regularly in The Muslim News. And all this time, I’ve been working on the premise that people out there reading all this have passion and opinion about these subjects. In the world of cyber-publishing its pretty easy to press your little pinkies onto your keys and say what’s really on your mind. I mean, everyone has an opinion, right? I’m sure all of you have your own views on the stuff I write, the stuff you read in the papers.

    So where have all the opinions gone? Where is the emotion, the argument, the debate, the passion? I was thinking of publishing some excerpts of debates and responses in The Muslim News itself, but it seems that apathy has set in.

    Come on people, there must be something on this site, or in the paper, or somewhere in the world that has tickled or poked you. Spill the beans.

    Assert your right to have an opinion by expressing it!

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  • Being ordinary spells danger

    I recently published the following piece in The Muslim News

    The July 7th bombers were described as quite ordinary people, nothing that would make you particularly notice them. Does that mean that all ordinary Muslims are under suspicion as potential bombers?

    On the morning of July 7th 2005 my then fiance (now husband) rang me in a temper from his local Piccadilly line station in north London. He was already running late when he arrived at the station, only to find that the Piccadilly line to central London was at a standstill. There was no information for the commuters who sweltered in the summer heat and no indication of when services would resume. What he didn’t know until later was that had he arrived at the station at his usual time, it’s very likely that he would have been dead, somewhere in the underground tunnel near Russell Square.

    It was a shock to both of us, particularly as our marriage was fast approaching. I saw my fairytale wedding flash before my eyes in an explosion of blood, and felt the palpitations of an imminent widow. The bombings of July 7th felt very personal and as the days unfolded my human connections to the tragedies grew. They brought home to me that Muslims could be just as much the victims of these terrible attacks as anyone else.

    I was an ordinary Londoner – no more, no less – when I stood with the huge crowds in Trafalgar Square last year at a one-week memorial of the bombings. The crowds were rallied by a wide range of speakers from across the community spectrum. The message that came through was that we would not be deterred, that we must stand together in shared humanity against those who were intent on bringing fear and destruction. I wondered at the time how many people turned to look at me with suspicion. My husband pointedly did not take a rucksack with him on the underground for months after, worried he would be stopped.

    A close family friend was arrested by the police (and his whereabouts then hidden) because he was a Muslim at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many of my Muslim friends as well as other friends and colleagues frequented the stations and streets where the bombs exploded. They could easily have been part of the toll of 52 deaths. In fact, a friend of a friend wept continuously in his local mosque because his daughter had gone to work that day and never returned. Many, many days later her corpse was found from the wreckage and identified.

    The loss and tragedy of ordinary individuals within the Muslim community has been overlooked not just in the 7th July bombings, but throughout the domestic and international violence and deaths in the wider ‘war on terror’. It seems that Muslims are not permitted the pain and grief of being victims, but rather must bear a collective responsibility for what happened. Worse still, the very ordinariness of the Muslims who suffered on that particularly dreadful day – as well as all the targeting and prejudice subsequently – is counterpoised by the very ordinariness of the way the bombers are portrayed. Those who knew them have described how nice they were, how ordinary, how well-liked. They had no previous histories, in fact, nothing that could have put a red alert onto their activities, say the Police and the media.

    These descriptions have been hijacked by political and social rhetoric within the public sphere and have painted ordinary Muslims as the root of the problem. As the bombers were seemingly ordinary Muslims, it seems that all other Muslims must also be not only complicit but also potential bombers. But ordinary Muslims loathe and despise what happened, and are suffering further as the victims of police enquiry, raids, social suspicion and as scapegoats.

    During the Cold War, the enemy was caricatured, clearly known, them and us. During the IRA campaign, again the enemy was a black and white call. But the ‘war on terror’ is so unknown, so undefined, that the definition of the enemy is just as fluid. Even those who have pronounced the war can’t describe the enemy. It could be that ordinary Muslim living next door to you, we’re told. It could be those two nice boys who live in Forest Gate, a nice quiet Muslim community. One day it’s the Muslims trained in Afghanistan, the next they are from Pakistan. Or, to tap your fears, they could be just like you, you or you. Don’t rest easy in your beds Middle England, the Bogeyman (or woman) Muslim is coming to get you. And that means that all Muslims are continuously on trial all the time.

    We should stop battle lines from being drawn on any side. Muslims cannot afford to isolate themselves despite the ill-treatment they are receiving. We all need the police, and we all have a civic duty to uphold social welfare and justice, which ordinary Muslims are sensibly continuing to do. Equally the Police, media and government cannot keep up this continual barrage of them-and-us which sits like a putrid fungus under the surface of what is said and done. The issue of the Cartoons was a case in point. Irrespective of anyone’s opinion on the cartoons themselves, it was the fact that Europe closed ranks and said, it’s our way or the highway, you have to play by our rules, that clearly showed that the liberal fa├žade still hides a sense of we and you, them and us.

    Much commentary will be written on the anniversary of these tragic events. There will be deep and deserved analysis of the last year, during which a nebulous and insidious ‘war on terror’ has dug its claws further into extremely worrying political rhetoric and action. What worries me most, are the subtle, unnoticeable shifts in the social climate. The foundations are already being laid that will allow ordinary Muslims to be continually targeted under the banner of fighting terror. We’ve already seen the start in Forest Gate.

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  • What counts as life and living?

    A public debate is kicking off again about the cut-off time for a legal abortion. Sixteen years ago the limit was reduced to 24 weeks where it currently stands, because it was felt that a baby could survive at this age outside the womb. The debate today also focuses around whether medical advances now permit babies to survive at an even earlier age, and so should the limit of when abortion is permitted be brought down correspondingly.

    My comment is not about the rights or wrongs of abortion. It’s more that I find it curious that the idea is gaining implicit momentum in our social values that only those who can survive independently have rights to live. At the other end of the spectrum we have the elderly, or those who we consider ill beyond redemption. As a society we have started talking about when (to put it crudely) can we “switch them off”. We are slowly eroding away the idea that we should protect those who need some help in surviving. It’s not widespread yet, but the insidious in-roads can be spotted. Independence is becoming the crux of being worthy of living.

    Doesn’t it make anyone else ethically nervous that when you are your most vulnerable that society wants to get rid of you?

    And then there is the idea that only those who are capable of living our kind of life are worthy of protecting. Isn’t that what happened in Iraq where deaths of Iraqi civilians weren’t ever reported in the same way that each casualty of the occupation forces was?

    It seems that as a society only what we determine as a life worth living, a skin worth existing in, only our kind of life is what counts.

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  • The horror of United 93

    I was reluctant to watch United 93. I thought it would be the latest film in a series of misportrayals of Muslims. And in the current climate of the War on Terror that grows ever-more crazy and violent and polarised, I felt that the film could only stoke the fire. However, I felt it was my duty to at least see the film before I turned my nose up at it. Yes, it’s indeed a novel approach to actually see/read/listen to the offending media item before passing judgement, but I thought I’d give it a go.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the film – although it was anything but pleasant. The film does a remarkable job of focusing on simply relating the account of what happened on that fateful fourth flight on September 11th. If you recall, the first two aeroplanes flew into the twin towers, the third into the Pentagon. United 93 was destined for Washington, but never made it to its target as the passengers wrestled the hijackers away from the controls. The plane crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania. No-one survived.

    You could cynically say that this gruesome tale has all the elements that make it perfect for film. There is the surprise of the whole series of events on that fateful day. The protagonists are all entirely ordinary, real people with ordinary real lives. Even the hijackers are humanised, with misgivings, doubts and weaknesses. The passengers show real heroism and selflessness marrying courage with intelligence. But most horrific of all is the shocking crash at the end. No aeroplane disaster movie Hollywood style would ever be permitted to end in a crash where everyone was brutally killed. This may be the first and the last.

    The film takes a neutral stand on the motivations and bigger picture of the events on that day, and does so with surprising success. If anything it lays any blame at the door of military command and those higher up the chain, but only does this in the text at the end of the film. Their slow response, their reluctance to take action, their inability to comprehend the seriousness of the events is counterpoised with what is actually happening, and the horrific experience of the passengers.

    What comes across most strikingly is how no-one at the time on that day could possibly have imagined what was happening. The events of that day – the possibility that there were multiple hijackings at the same time, and that the hijackers actually were planning death – completely changed the game. The rules were re-written.

    But the turning point of the events is when the passengers find out through air telephones speaking to their loved ones on the ground – saying their goodbyes and knowing pretty much for sure that they would not see them again (hope is rarely annihilated so totally) – that two other planes have been hijacked and flown into the twin towers. Armed with this knowledge their response to the situation changes and they realise that action is a must, because they realise that the hijackers are on a suicide mission. When the passengers realise that death is inevitable the take matters in their own hands. Both the hijackers and the hijacked are suddenly on an even playing field where death is no longer a threat.

    The hijackers have no moral judgement passed on them. As a Muslim it made my skin crawl to see them undertaking this horrific and heinous act. But I must accept that the way they are portrayed is most likely accurate: their use of verses from the Qur’an, their turning to God for support. They keep reciting the verses of promise of rewards in the hereafter for their actions, repeating them over and over, perhaps to reassure themselves that this totally unimaginable action that they are about to undertake will bear dividends.

    The use of Qur’anic recitation and Arabic is becoming more and more familiar in films and underlines the fascination – whether positive or negative – of the West with Eastern and Islamic ideas, sounds and thought. It feels unusual to watch. It is challenging as a Muslim to see the same words and ideas interpreted in different ways, in this case by both the hijackers and the film-makers.

    But what I came home with most, was a sick feeling in my stomach for those who died on that flight. The film leaves you with a hint of the horror of being on that flight that day. It is a horror which should not be wished even on your worst enemies.

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  • Cartman defends Muslims

    It’s been a while coming, but even Cartman has now woken up to the saga of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. This is a must-watch!

    Click here

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  • Dear Uncle Sam – enemies are human too

    Dear Uncle Sam

    I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that people who are non-Americans, even those who might be the enemy, can have normal human responses, just like Americans. Sammy, I know its difficult for you to understand, but when prisonsers, whatever their ideological flavour or fanaticism, are kept in prison without knowing why, without access to human contact or even knowing if they will be brought to trial, they may actually prefer to die.

    I agree that it’s tough fighting a war when you don’t know what the war is about or who is the enemy or where they come from. But surely even you must be embarrassed at finding three of your proclaimed Most Evil Men on the Earth, exposing your inability to comprehend that even they are human. Your views that these people must be some kind of automatons, de-humanised of any reaction that we might call “normal” to situations of immense stress and hopelessness, has been writ large in the words of one of your Spin Doctors. ‘A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a “good PR move to draw attention”‘.

    Surely you can only think like that about others, if you’re already in that mindset. Are you so embroiled in a culture of PR and media, that all you can imagine is that everyone else is doing so too? What else am I to make of the camp commander at Guantanamo saying that “two Saudis and a Yemeni were ‘committed’ and had killed themselves in an ‘act of asymmetric warfare waged against us’“. Aysmmetric warfare? Is that like the asymmetric bars in gymnastics? Or is that where you hold a gun to a man’s head who is in an orange jumpsuit shackled to the floor? Back to the doctor for some more paranoid pills, Sammy boy.

    Mr Sam, if its not out of place for me to say, I recommend that you attend some introductory classes at your local college or university to re-sensitise yourself to Human Beings. Their emotions, feelings and motivations are fascinating things, and may help you to understand why these poor men have chosen not to live. Your people say that America values all life, even that of detainees. Well, all human being including the detainees feel – or should I say felt – the same. What did you do to these people that life became the less attractive option?

    Dearest Uncle, I wish that I could laugh at this latest hilarious prank of yours. But I feel sick. So should you.

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  • We must not draw battle lines with the police

    My black sense of humour is tickled by the idea of a police raid at dawn on a Muslim household. I imagine the police banging on the front door, and the occupants opening the door bright and cheery and saying “Aah, Officer! We’re just having tea before morning prayers. Would you like to join us?”

    In reality though, dawn raids, cordoning off streets, shootings, and hordes of police descending on a quiet community are not by any means humorous. I refer to the recent events in Forest Gate in London, where two men have been arrested, one of them shot, in circumstances still unknown.

    The police claim there was credible evidence of chemical weapons, but have yet found nothing. It’s difficult to assess at this time exactly why they launched this raid. Did they genuinely believe there was a threat, or were they maliciously fishing? Were they trying to stir up trouble where there was none, and re-inject fear into the local and wider populations?

    It is quite acceptable for writers, commentators and bloggers to be cynical about the police’s motives. However, it is quite another for someone like Yvonne Ridley, a member of the Respect party, to stand up in public and call for Muslims to withdraw co-operation from the police. Which is exactly what she did last night at a Respect party meeting, and this morning on national radio. And she wasn’t even very convincing at that. It sounded more like headline grabbing than well-thought through civil disobedience.

    She has drawn the battle lines between the Muslim community and the Police and wider society. She has gone out of her way to isolate Muslims, to assert victimhood, and ignite a war where we should be building bridges. I hope ordinary Muslims will continue to play their role in being observant members of society, and will exercise their civic duty in maintaining a well-policed community. Muslims have both rights and responsibilities to society and the police: rights to be protected, served and presumed innocent, responsibilities to support the police and ensure safety and justice are kept in tact.

    Whether others are abusing their power, perpetuating Islamophobia, or any of a long list of complaints, Muslims must excel in being exemplars of civic conscience and duty. Our job is to be courageous in finding solutions, not mark out the field for a battle in which there will only be losers.

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  • Has God become the servant of football?

    Continuing with the general football theme… according to The Sun’s front page today, if God had a religion, it would be football.

    Before you jump down my throat, I didn’t buy it, nor am I a subscriber, but I heard the front page headline read out this morning, commenting on a picture of the once-again-able-footed Wayne Rooney: “There is a God”. Not well-known for promoting Christian or theistic values, it seems that the editors of this tabloid find that when it comes to the crunch there is a little spark that helps them to turn to God. Or worse still, they’ve made God into a meaningless irony.

    Have we turned God into a football lucky charm? And is a recovering metatarsal all we have to be thankful for?

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  • Important World Cup football questions

    With the World Cup upon us, Muslims have to ask some serious questions: If football is a new religion, is it compatible with being Muslim? I’m waiting to see a flurry of pre-World Cup rulings from our esteemed clerics pronouncing upon whether it is permissible to pray for your national team, or if it is necessary to support the Muslim countries in the tournament as a priority. I’m sure there will be a swarm of bans on watching the muscular men run around in shorts – although I’d be all up for pronouncing against all that wrapping legs round each other hugging post scoring a goal stuff. (what is that about?)

    And if indeed football is the new religion, and if in the unlikely event that one of the three Muslim teams – Iran, Saudi Arabia or Tunisia – actually won the tournament by some miracle, would Hizb-ut-Tahrir proclaim that a football Khilafah had been established and that the Muslim winning team could bring about peace, justice and football according to Islamic rules?

    Seriously, what are the chances of an all-Muslim country final, with Iran, Saudia Arabia or Tunisia?

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  • Random nuclear thought

    Why is it that the USA gets to decide which countries are “safe” to develop nuclear weapons and which ones prove a threat to the world? Is it because they would like to maintain their exclusive status of being the only country in history to have actually used not one, but two nuclear weapons on a civilian population?

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