Month September

  • Maligning Muslims is now Cause for Applause

    I recently published this piece on The Muslim News.

    What once could not be said about any ethnic or faith minority, is now legitimate and meritworthy when said against Muslims.

    It’s been a pretty bad few weeks. The war in southern Lebanon and the total devastation of the country’s infrastructure set a pretty depressing backdrop to the subsequent events. The death upon death in Lebanon was re-packaged by Condoleeza Rice as “birth pangs.” In mid-August air travel and the airports came to a standstill in the wake of the foiled attacks on flights from London to the US. Travellers are now facing stricter safety measures on travel, and the episode has re-injected fear and hatred for Muslims into the general population.

    In the run-up to the days marking the fifth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, George Bush decided that the War on Terror was the wrong war. The latest war was the War against Islamic Fascists. I carried out an unscientific poll of a group of my flabbergasted friends and colleagues who felt that this new terminology was an oxymoron (a George-Moron?), a contradiction in terms, designed to create an image in people’s minds that Muslims are fascists. It’s not a meaningful term, nor a helpful term they told me. It’s too muddled up with Italian history. And, most worryingly of all, it is part of what now seems to be open season on Muslims. It seems you can say anything you like these days about Muslims without being held to account.

    The Pope got in on the act and decided to quote an “erudite Byzantine emperor” of the 14th century who was having a discussion with a Persian Muslim. The emperor said “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” The Pope insisted this was a quotation given in an academic discussion. But he put the idea out there. And just like creating a connection between Islam and Fascism, it adds to the acrid atmosphere building up against Muslims.

    The Pope is a religious leader, and spiritually and politically he should have known better. Despite his subsequent comments that this connection was not his intention, his speech actually used the idea of violent conversion as something to reject as it is against the nature of man. He juxtaposed this caricature of the violent Muslim against the conceptualisation of Christian doctrine being based on reason and in accordance with the nature of man. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, was impressed and agreed wholeheartedly.

    There was rightful condemnation from around the Muslim world. The Pope did indeed need to be corrected. And when the Pope starts sending out signals against the followers of another faith, we know that there is trouble brewing and we need to nip it in the bud. On the whole Muslim protest was peaceful, measured and well-conducted. But in a few places the protests smacked of Muslims jumping up and down on their turbans again, and a couple of churches were attacked in Nablus. It made me cry. We need to learn to select our weapon of choice wisely – this is a war of ideas, and we need to combat it with ideas.

    The Evening Standard – well-known for its anti-Muslim views – surpassed itself and published a rabid hate-filled piece by Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of the Barnabas Fund. He writes: “Contemporary Islam has burst out of its colonial restraints. Once colonialism removed power, jihad and territorial control from Islam, it was left a benign force focusing on prayer and good deeds. But contemporary Islam has reverted back to early Islam, with all its theological rage against the non-Muslim world”. What a lot of imperialist nonsense. Colonialism as a force for good in managing the primitive violent Muslims who don’t know better? Early Islam having theological rage? I refer both the Pope and Dr Sookhdeo to the Crusades parts 1 to 9 (and beyond) as examples of colonialist attitudes and theological rage. The thing that made me laugh, albeit at the irony, was the statement by the Barnabus Fund that says, “We reject utterly any implication that our literature stirs up hatred against Muslims”.

    Dr Sookhdeo also rails against Muslim schools, claiming that he doesn’t believe they can live up to the “noble tradition” of Christian and Jewish faith schools. To paraphrase him, mosques teach Muslims to hate everyone else, and Islamic law is mediaeval and unalterable. He sprinkles his toxic poison liberally: “I believe Islam needs different treatment from other faiths because Islam is different from other faiths.”

    And therein lies the rub. It’s now OK to say whatever you like about Islam and Muslims because they are being seen as different. Not quite the same. Not at all the same, in fact. The voices that were once whispers are now recognised and applauded for saying that Muslims are violent people, that they are evil, uncontrollable, the cause of all terror and the source of all our woes. Already people are pulled aside for wearing headscarves, for having tufty beards, for being brown in colour. Names are scrutinised for sounding Muslim, and their owners subjected to investigation. This scary world is one that we already live in.

    These loaded comments, blanket discrimination and characterising of Muslims is dangerous. For Everyone. And Everyone needs to be worried. In a sick Orwellian fashion they are building up a portrait of a Muslim villain, a de-humanised monster that lives in our midst. A scapegoat and a legitimate target. Will the next step be for Muslims to carry identity cards with little yellow crescents on them? Let’s not go down that road again.

    continue reading
  • Muslims told to spy on their own children

    The Home Secretary John Reid will tell Muslims today that they need to keep an eye on their children in case they become terrorists. He will ask parents to watch out for any changes in habit, talk to them, and no doubt report them if they are (to paraphrase) up to no good.

    Mr Reid’s statement has the sinister undertone that all Muslims are somehow complicit in terrorist activities and that even if they knew about them they wouldn’t try to stop them. On top of that, are we all five year old hooligans that we need to be taught about social responsibility?

    If Mr Reid was looking for some drama in his meeting today, then he’s certainly managed to stir up some drama queen antics here. It’s just a silly thing to say and will only serve to exacerbate the bigger picture.

    Spot test: anyone remember another period in history when family members were asked to spy on each other and then report back any “wrong” behaviour? On that occasion it was the youth who were asked to spy…

    continue reading
  • Re-building New Orleans and Lebanon

    I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read this piece comparing the US government’s approach to the disaster recovery work after Katrina with that of Hezbollah in Lebanon. The piece is written by Ted Rall, a US citizen. Whatever you may think of Hezbollah, he raises some interesting (if tongue-in-cheek) points about the responsiveness of the governement of a “civilised” and “developed” country and its concerns for its citizens, compared with an organisation like Hezbollah. One of his great comments is “With terrorists like that, who needs FEMA?”

    A year on, the US government has done little to help its citizens, barely knowing what the impact of Katrina has been. On the other hand, days after the ceasefire in Lebanon, Hezbollah has assessed the situation, they have a clear idea of the impact of the war, they are handing out resources and have started re-building work already.

    Note: I’m posting this piece for its intrinsic interest. don’t really know much about Ted Rall himself. Also, the piece has good irony and is worth posting for that alone – I make no moral comment on either the US or HZB.

    Why America Needs Hezbollah

    By Ted Rall

    08/18/06 “Information Clearing House” Hours after a ceasefire halted a five-week war between Israel and Iranian-backed Islamic militias in Lebanon, reported the New York Times, “hundreds of Hezbollah members spread over dozens of villages across southern Lebanon began cleaning, organizing and surveying damage. Men on bulldozers were busy cutting lanes through giant piles of rubble. Roads blocked with the remnants of buildings are now, just a day after a ceasefire began, fully passable.” Who cares if Hezbollah is a State Department-designated terrorist organization? Unlike our worthless government, it gets things done!

    The citizens of New Orleans desperately need Hezbollah’s can-do terrorist spirit. Outside the French Quarter tourist zone, writes Jed Horne in The New Republic, what was until 2005 our nation’s most charming city and cultural center remains “a disaster zone, an area five times the size of Manhattan.”

    One year after the routine matter of a Gulf Coast hurricane, half the city’s population remains refugees–screwed over by a government that hasn’t lifted a finger to pretend that it cares. Horne describes “Vast swaths of a city emptied as if by a neutron bomb, with only the fecal brown floodline up under the eaves to suggest what went so very wrong–that, and the ghostly dried brine still coating the dead lawns and landscaping.”

    New Orleans is a dead city. Incredibly, the politicians don’t give a damn. “Now most of the water has gone,” the British Daily Mirror newspaper informed readers on the storm’s anniversary, “but little else has changed. Driving through the streets, it is shocking to see how much devastation remains and how little rebuilding has taken place.”

    Americans watched incredulously as their government responded to the desperate pleas of sick and starving Katrina victims by herding them into internment camps, and then issued them $2000 debit cards–an insulting pittance–to compensate them for losing everything they owned. Anyone could see that the federal government had failed its obligation to protect its citizens. Not only had officials refused to shore up crumbling levies, they didn’t even try to send in relief after the long-predicted flood. The United States of America, however, is led by men who see things very differently from, well, everyone else. They actually think that Hurricane Katrina victims received too much.

    “If you put $2,000 in someone’s hands, that’s a lot of money,” Federal Emergency Management Agency Director David Paulison explained during a July 23 announcement. Due to Bush Administration budget cuts, the victims of future disasters will have to make do with a mere $500.

    You know the U.S. has gone Third World when bombed-out Lebanese get a better deal than we do. Remember how hurricane victims couldn’t get through to FEMA’s perpetually busy hotline? Promising that Hezbollah personnel “in the towns and villages will turn to those whose homes are badly damaged and help rebuild them,” Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah ordered Hezbollah militants to canvass damaged neighborhoods and begin repairs at once. Hezbollah gives out “decent and suitable furniture” and a year’s free rent to all Lebanese who lost their homes. Unlike the racist government officials who managed the botched response along the Gulf Coast last year, where whites were rescued while blacks were shot, the Shiite terrorist group’s offer also applies to Sunnis, Christians and even Jews.

    “Hezbollah’s reputation as an efficient grass-roots social service network,” reported the Times, “was in evidence everywhere. Young men with walkie-talkies and clipboards were in the battered Shiite neighborhoods on the southern edge of Bint Jbail, taking notes on the extent of the damage. Hezbollah men also traveled door to door checking on residents and asking them what help they needed.” With terrorists like that, who needs FEMA?

    A year after Katrina, officials are still pulling bodies out of the rubble. Dozens of corpses remain unidentified; the president, governor and mayor continue to pass the blame for their willful inaction. George W. Bush still refuses to accept responsibility. Just one day after the Lebanese ceasefire, however, Sheikh Nasrallah had already delivered a thorough accounting of the damage caused by Israel’s bombing campaign and launched a comprehensive rebuilding program. “So far,” said the Hezbollah leader, “the initial count available to us on completely demolished houses exceeds 15,000 residential units. We cannot of course wait for the government and its heavy vehicles and machinery because they could be a while.”

    As often occurs during emergencies in the U.S., price gouging for housing, water, gasoline and other essentials was rampant during and after Katrina. Bush did nothing. Nasrallah, by contrast, warned businesses not to exploit the situation: “No one should raise prices due to a surge in demand.”

    Never argue with a man who buys AK-47s by the boxcar.

    “Hezbollah’s strength,” says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a professor at the Lebanese American University in Beirut and an expert on the organization, in large part derives from “the gross vacuum left by the state.

    “Sound familiar? It does to the people of Ladysmith, Wisconsin. The rural town, destroyed by a tornado in 2002, has been abandoned by the government to whom its people paid taxes all their lives.

    Maybe we can commission Hezbollah to rebuild the World Trade Center.

    continue reading