Month November

  • Bond, but not as we know him

    I went to see Casino Royale last night with high expectations, but came home disappointed. I’d read all the blurb about making Bond more realistic, more gritty, less misogynistic, less outlandish. But the script, and Daniel Craig were a let down.

    Bond has lost his charisma and charm. He’s turned into a gritty character out of Spooks or Two Smoking Barrels. Bond was supposed to transport us to a different world of uber-glamour, outrageous villains and eye-popping stunts. Instead, we got no fabulous opening drama sequence, a weepy, sulky woman who was supposed to be the female foil to the new masculine (as opposed to sexual) Bond, and a rather dull villain with no gold teeth, white fluffy cat or any notions of megalomania.

    You’ll say that I’m harking back to the old days, and not moving with Bond to a new era. But really, this is a different kind of film altogether. It felt more like action hero than movie icon. Bond was its own genre, but now it’s just another drama film. It could have been Die Hard, or Patriot Games.

    But what really confused me was the gritty realism being intertwined with deep and meaningful psychological analysis of Bond’s make up, trying to explain the origins of his behaviours. It’s far to soft and gentle, you feel like all his subsequent conquests should weep for his poor ravaged life and offer him counselling.

    Despite all this, the film is quite good watching, until about twenty minutes before the end before Bond makes a revelation that Bond should never ever make. And it’s all downhill from there. This is a new “hard on the outside soft on the inside” Bond, that has lost his charm and his crackling confidence and his signature sneer has turned into a compassionate understanding of the ‘big picture’ of the world and its emotional intricacies. How disappointing. We already have real life for all that.

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  • Virtual consciousness: The Cult of Being Busy

    I recently published the following article in The Muslim News.

    We find ourselves in a constant state of being busy, but without really seeming to achieve very much. Why are we obsessed with filling up every moment of our lives? Does our constant need to be listening, talking, watching or playing games mean we are missing out on what is really happening?

    I haven’t seen you for ages, I said to a friend of mine the other day. What have you been up to? She rolled her eyes, I’ve just been so busy, she wailed. So much to do, and I feel so tired all the time.

    I know, I empathised, me too. What about you, what is it you’ve been doing? I asked again. You know, she responded, just running around like a crazy thing, work, family, work, it’s just so hectic.

    I still had no clue what she had actually been doing, other than engaging in “being busy”, she was busying. It should be a proper verb and what she should have said was “I’ve been busying.” That is, she had spent her time in the act of being busy just for being busy’s sake with no tangible outcome or goal. Busying is to be busy simply for the sake of it. Busying has in and of itself become a respectable – nay essential and addictive – activity.

    Modern life and attitudes seem to be built around the art of being occupied. “Always connected”, “never out of touch”, “one phone call away” “hear the news as it’s being made”. These are all phrases that influence our perceptions of how we should behave, how we should feel, how we should fill our time. We have no choice but to be constantly occupied, continuously engaging in activity, whether it has any value or not. I must be able to make a statement at any given time about what I am doing. And therefore being busy validates my existence as a ‘normal’ human being. To not be busy, is to be a loser.

    It would be shameful today to admit that you had been doing nothing. In fact, most people simply wouldn’t know how to relate to this. I took some time off after Eid, but chose not to go away on holiday. I returned to work and was asked about my break. It was fantastic, I told them. Oh yes, where did you go? Asked my colleague. Oh nowhere, I replied nonchalantly, didn’t do anything. His face was a picture of incomprehension. Huh?

    The current proliferation of digital radio, portable music players and mobile phones adds a new dimension to the fact that people feel they most be occupied all the time. Wherever you go, people are listening on their headphones to their music, to the radio, or are chatting away on their phones. People can’t even wait for someone without filling nanoseconds of time by sending text messages or playing games on their gadgets.

    A London commuter has finally had enough of people playing their music loudly on the bus and has started up a petition to ban this sort of behaviour, calling it anti-social. Rather, I find a carriage of distracted beings engrossed in being busy, a sad heartbreaking experience. Why do we feel the need to be constantly occupied in this way? Silence is no longer golden: it has become unbearable and therefore unacceptable.

    Jack Straw spoke of the veil being a marker of separation. I find everyone walking around immersed with their phone, radio, music player, like impenetrable walking cocoons, far more divisive. There is no way to have interaction with these people, no possibility of saying hello, or striking up a conversation. They stare blankly, numbed into submission by what they are listening to, unable to stop the stream of input for fear of silence, of themselves.

    You will know people who must always have the radio on, the TV on, be listening to something in the background, or speaking to someone, or playing with their mobile phone, or sitting at their computer. “Content” is the new buzz word, which means bits of information or education such as photos, videos, news clips, music and so on, that you can use to fill your time and savour. The technology industry is pushing content as the next big way to make money. Consumers are thought to want to be continuously occupied by content, and so the idea is to fashion content and its accessibility to meet the consumer’s need without them even having to think about it. What consumers want, apparently, is a constant stream of tailored content to fulfil their interests and fill their time.

    It feels like as a human being, I am being moulded into a receptacle whose sole function is to imbibe sensory input, and become paralysed with being busy, and absorbing – actively choosing to absorb – more and more stimuli. And on top of this, most of the stuff that we suck in through our eyes and ears, is total dross. If the music, radio, phone conversations were of any quality the argument might be different, but listen into any MP3 player around you, or any of the mobile phone calls, and most of it is pretty meaningless and redundant.

    The constant need to have sensory input means that there is no appreciation of quiet, of rest, of simply being. People feel they must be distracted and can’t bear to be alone with themselves. If you’re getting something done, or even just relaxing, that’s fine, but these activities seem to be not only to fill time, but more importantly to fill space. Why is this all so fashionable? Why do we plunge ourselves into the Cult of Being Busy? Why are we so addicted?

    Ali, the cousin of the Prophet says, people are sleeping, they wake up when they die. Filling up our eyes and ears, fills up our hearts. We cannot see or hear what is really happening around us. We fritter our time away, and don’t let our minds rest, reflect, and create.

    The magic of periods like Ramadhan and hajj lies in the fact that being busy is replaced with time for quiet, reflection and activities with goals. We spend time reading Qur’an, in planning meals, in longer prayers. In hajj we abandon the distractions of clothing, of clockwatching, of the news, of telephones. Our reward is clarity in our vision, a re-prioritisation of what is important, and a sudden surge in the peace and progress that we make.

    Creativity requires space, quiet and time, all of which we have snatched away from ourselves. To stop people moving forward, to stunt their creativity, the fastest way is to distract them with other activities. Busying is the nemesis to reflection, creativity and inspiration. Five minutes of quiet, of no distractions each day, can work wonders, and liberates the thoughts in your head. After a while, the stimuli become annoying and the quiet becomes addictive.

    Prayer was designed to break the addiction, to create time to connect, to reflect, but even this is often squeezed in between other kinds of busying. If you can wake up in the early morning to pray fajr, the dawn prayer, most people comment on the clarity they feel. Busy-ness doesn-t get a look in, because in the quiet of the morning there is no interference from music, radio, TV, newspapers or phonecalls. There is, literally, peace and quiet. More accurately, what is to be found is peace through the quiet.

    It seems that we in the postmodern age are hiding from something. Hiding from the possibility of being better, from exploring ourselves. A few minutes without any outside sensory input can work wonders, can open unknown possibilities. But it takes a conscious decision to stop being busy just for being busy’s sake.

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  • Am I beautiful?

    Last week I made the first of a series of guest appearances on a new women’s show on BanglaTV (don’t even ask!) The aim of the show called Voices, is to provide a forum for discussion for women about relevant topics. There’s a presenter and three guests basically having a chat about the topic, and guests can call in and put their views across. Last week the topic was “Am I beautiful?”, to discuss the pressures to be beautiful.

    In the course of my research I discovered some astonishing facts. According to a survey by Dove (who have cannily launched the Campaign for Real Beauty), only 2% of women identify themselves as beautiful. Only two out of every hundred! That is shocking. What happened to the other 98 to have such low self esteem? 90% of all women 15-64 worldwide want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance (with body weight ranking the highest). A gob-smacking 67% of all women 15 to 64 withdraw from life engaging activities due to feeling badly about their looks (among them things like giving an opinion, going to school, going to the doctor). This is frankly using psychological methods to enforce social control.

    The terrible thing is that Asians feel as though they are whiter than white when it come to exempting women from the pressures to be beautiful. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

    Perhaps the most interesting points in the show (for me at any rate) was the unravelling of not only the ‘western’ pressures on women to always look fabulous, but also the ‘eastern’ idea that as a woman, whether a potential or actual daughter in law (and marriage was a huge factor in all this), being beautiful was hugely important. Women have to be attractive to secure a “decent proposal”, and those who are not are often passed over.

    When mother-in-laws select wives it is acknowledged that beauty is high up on the list, and when the women become new brides, their appearance, looks and being dolled up are extremely important, even, we discussed, to the detriment of hijab – the modest covering that Muslim women often choose to wear. As new brides, women’s hijab is often dispensed with lightly as these women become beauty objects.

    When I discussed the idea that such women were then only “trophies”, a caller told me off for women thinking of themselves in this way, and that we should be happy if in-laws wanted to show off a new daughter in law for being attractive.

    A brave woman called in to express how she had felt quite secure in her own home, but after she got married her in-laws would often criticise the way she looked and dressed, till they had broken her confidence and self-esteem.

    With the whole debate raging about whether women should wear hijab or niqab, these attitudes strike me as deeply superficial and hypocritical. What is the point of modest dress and behaviour when the real attitudes that lie underneath are to flaunt a beautiful daughter-in-law like a prize possession?

    By belittling the importance of modest dress and covering for newly married women, a greater contrast is created for these dolled up brides compared to their previous self-selected modest apparel and demeanour. This only emphasises that being dressed up and “being beautiful” (whatever that means) are truly the goal. Despite the big fuss about hijab and niqab from within the more traditional parts of the Muslim community, it sees that in real life, attitude and behaviour, modesty is the booby prize to being beautiful, and showing it off.

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  • The Genius of the Dunk Mug

    Sometimes genius rears its head in the simplest yet most amazing places. What on earth has taken human beings so long to come up with this mug that houses your biscuits neatly at the bottom? No more leaving crumbs on the table, or getting your fingers sticky holding onto your cookie, and also this little invention let’s you store more than one biscuit without looking greedy or filling up your hands with a stack of biccies.

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  • The Experts’ Guide to Excuses

    Is there an Israeli handbook of excuses? It seems they always have something to hand (see post below about the military flights).

    At one: “We didn’t know!”
    At two, “They made us do it!”
    And new in at three, “Am I bovvered?”

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  • France Summons Israeli Ambassador Over Warplane Incident

    I don’t normally post entire stories from other media, but I do think this one here is a read, and I’d like to save you the pain of clicking through. Somehow this was missed in the UK media.


    The French government summoned Thursday Israel’s ambassador to Paris to complain about an incident in which warplanes dived menacingly on French troops in south Lebanon, officials in Paris said.

    The ambassador, Daniel Shek, was called to speak to officials at the French foreign ministry, that ministry and the French defense ministry said. French officials said Israeli military aircraft dived towards French troops serving with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south.The French troops had been within “two seconds” of firing on the aircraft and a “catastrophe” was narrowly avoided, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Wednesday.

    Her ministry said the incident occurred October 31 but did not say where exactly. France currently leads the UNIFIL and is due to hand over command to Italy in February.The French foreign ministry has accused Israel of violating the terms of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Israel-Hizbullah war by sending its warplanes over Lebanon.

    It has also noted that UNIFIL has a robust mandate permitting it to respond to aggressive moves by either Hizbullah or the Israeli military. “When Israeli aircraft recently ‘dived’ on French UNIFIL soldiers, it is a miracle that nothing serious happened, because there could have been a response on the part of French troops,” Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday.

    The Israeli military on Thursday said it had no knowledge of any such incident.

    Shelina’s comment: no knowledge of events is a familiar statement from Israel. They used a similar excuse about Beit Hanoun when I heard their spokesperson on the BBC respond to that event.

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  • Transport For London Misery

    I called up the Highways Ha Ha Ha Agency who told me that Transport for London were responsible for the A406. So I called them up instead and spoke to Jude who is obviously well-trained in diffusing complainants, even nice ones like me. “I know exactly what you mean, I was stuck in the same place a couple of week’s ago.”

    Apparently they’ve had lots of complaints about this stretch of the North Circular that leads up to Henly’s Corner. He said that the subcontractors narrow the road to slow people down (there’s slow and then there’s slooooooow) to protect their workers. I told him that there were absolutely no workers and no working in sight. Oh, said he.

    So the process is that he speaks to the road network management team who employ the contractors, and they slap their wrists a bit and try and improve things (why do i feel oh-so-cynical). Every complaint gets a personal response. So I should hear something today or tomorrow.

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  • Traffic misery in November

    I seem to spend far too much time stuck in traffic these days. It’s miserable. Today, on my way to work, I was faced with traversing three accident locations in the space of 15 miles. An hour and four miles later, I threw my hands up in despair, turned round and went home.

    But much much worse was the totally pointless queue of traffic in which I was stationary on Saturday night. On my way home after midnight, with the husband, we turned onto the North Circular A406 in north London, expecting to zip home and be tucked up within half an hour. Five minutes in, at Finchley (having narrowly missed an exit which would have saved me two hours of finger tapping on the steering wheel, and also having watched a car reverse back down the slip road to avoid the traffic, something i should have been foolhardy enough to risk) I was at the end of a queue of about a thousand cars sitting like sardines squashed in a tin, going nowhere fast. 800 yards ahead, the three lanes were going to narrow to one for roadworks.

    The traffic cones sprung up to close the lanes. Two hours later we got to the junction. THERE WERE NO ROADWORKS GOING ON. This means at least 1000 cars with an average of two people each sat still on a saturday night for about two hours each, for no reason at all. That’s about 4000 wasted human hours at the very least. Not to mention all the pollution from all these cars going nowhere. This wasn’t essential roadworks. This was no roadworks.

    I will be complaining to the highways agency. I do wonder if there is any irony in their complaints email being ““. Ha_Bloody_Ha.

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  • Saddam’s death sentence and the mid term elections

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  • Jack Straw: Hiding from his responsibilities on the veil issue

    When Jack Straw came and spoke at a meeting held by the City Circle and Three Faiths Forum last night, you could see that he secretly loved the attention he was drawing.

    He was asked on several occasions about whether he took responsibility for the attacks on Muslim women (veils being ripped off and so on) following his remarks about Muslim women and how he thought it would be better if they didn’t wear veils. He said “I wouldn’t put my comments into that context”.

    Further he said “I’m only saying what Islamic scholars have said before… that the veil is a matter of debate.” Slippery. And very cheeky.

    He said that he would certainly write the column again, that sparked the whole debate, and lay the blame for the discussions and tensions that followed at the doorstep of the media “What is a story one day, may not be a story another day”.

    He offered up the current political buzzwords that Muslims in some parts were living ‘parallel lives’ (if you see this mentioned anywhere else, let me know!), and that what the Labour government was not asking for was “black people to become white” but was moving for a “British identity” to be built.

    He said such an identity would be constructed on liberty, tolerance, the rule of law, of carrying out our rights and obligations and recognising that there is intrinsic value in taking part in society, and that means more than just breathing the same air.

    Much of his presentation was great political spin and didn’t really add much to the discussion, other than to confirm that he is a slippery political animal and that he didn’t even want to acknowledge the consequences of his words.

    He was determined to connect the issues of separation and communication with that of the 5% of women who wear a veil and when challenged as to whether this was really the biggest concern in working through the issues of social cohesion he didn’t have a good answer.

    He said he felt that it opened up a topic people wanted to discuss, but what he didn’t realise is that instead of helping Muslim women it has closed down their voices and once again put all the focus on them, instead of dealing with the wider social issues. He has forced Muslim women to polarise themselves into pro or con the niqab instead of letting us work through the issues ourselves. What a shame he doesn’t have the guts to take responsibility for the further pressures and abuse that he has incensed against Muslim women both from outside and within the Muslim community.

    You can watch the event here
    The Guardian posted an article here

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