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.continue reading
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.continue reading
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”‘.continue reading
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.
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.continue reading
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?continue reading
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?continue reading
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?continue reading
I recently published this article in The Muslim News
With the anniversary of the London bombings fast approaching, the Government and the media have their eyes on mosques and imams. They are increasingly calling for them to fall under greater scrutiny. But why are these institutions which are fundamental to the Muslim community not assessing themselves with a critical eye? Isn’t it time that mosques and imams started to lead from the front?
When Muslims started to arrive in droves in the UK in the 1950’s and 60’s, little mosques started to sparkle everywhere like drops of dew on a cool summer morning. They took the form of back rooms in people’s homes, behind shops, a hired room in a community centre. They were a stake in the ground, the flagpole of a recently arrived community making the place their own. Find three Muslims in one location, and you found a place of prayer. On the whole they were run as microcosms of ‘back home’, community centres mainly for men, with classes after school where children learnt the Qur’an by rote, rarely understanding a word that they were reading. The imams were usually brought in from places where the bulk of the local community hailed from: they were links to traditional cultures and teachings.
But those Muslims grew up, they faced new challenges, and most of all, they questioned, and got no answers from their imams who did not speak their language, neither English, nor in content or relevance. A lot of the time, they didn’t bother to go to mosques as part of the daily routine as their families had done before. They claimed that the mosques were no longer relevant, that they couldn’t communicate with the imam, that the faith that was taught there was outdated, not for them. And yet the mosques and the imams pretty much stuck to the way things were. Quietly from within the Muslim community, little beacons of light did start to emerge, trying to change the attitude, approach and significance of the mosque within the community. But these are still few and far between.
It has taken the events of July 7 and the whole of the media spotlight on the institutions of the mosque and the imams to send a jolt through the community. But words like, head, bury, sand, ostrich still spring to mind. The Government and liberal discourse has got it into its spin-filled head that the mosque is the source of all radicalism, and that imams have a huge responsibility to bear, and that responsibility for these hideous tragedies lies on their shoulders. This line of argument is now zoning in on these targets with the proposals of new forms of regulation.
This talk of plans to regulate mosques and imams is deeply worrying and has a dark edge to it. No other faith group in this country is regulated in this way. Why single out the Muslim community for further regulation? The threat to have a Government controlled body – and it can be seen, as nothing except a prejudiced threat – needs to shake the leaders of the mosques and the imams into introducing reform and best practice according to their own requirements and benchmarks. Having been in this country for at least 50 years, the Muslim community needs collectively to assess what the function of the mosque should be, and what it needs to do to achieve that goal. But alas, we’ve been too comfortable. Half a century on, it’s time we took stock. Are our mosques properly funded? Do they have the right spiritual and social facilities? What is their function in the community? Do they serve all their constituents?
The mosque, as any Muslim will tell you, was designed to be the centre of the Muslim social scene. Prayer is of course the defining element of the masjid – which means ‘place to prostrate’. However, even from early historical times its function and resonance was much wider. It was the place for reform and challenge. What happened? The role of the mosque and the imam are now up for discussion. And about time too. It’s time for imams to be given a hard time.
Why are the imams not ahead of the curve? Their very role is to be the zeitgeist, to anticipate change and initiate it. They should be our visionaries and leaders. An imam’s role is, according to the word’s meaning, to lead.
The issue of women with regards to mosques is also a serious one. There are now an estimated 1600 mosques in the UK. It is generally accepted that a large proportion of these do not permit women to enter, or claim that they do not have the facilities for women. There is no active accommodation of women in mosques – no sense that they are an integral part of the mosque. The physical space allocated to women is remembered as an afterthought in the planning of a mosque. Mosque committees rarely have female members, and the balance of power lies with the imam or the (male) chair.
The elders have made huge contributions to the community, often prioritising the establishment of the mosque over personal needs. But the unfortunate reality is that the presence of younger members is on the whole minimal, and again they are unlikely to wield any power. The culture of the ‘murabbi’ or the elder insists that the opinion of the young is downgraded in favour of the elder, irrespective of the merit of the suggestion or action.
It will be hard for those running the bulk of mosques to take these comments, or to embrace the reforms that must inevitably come. They are in comfortable positions of power and have no incentive to change. Not to mix metaphors, but, the times, they are a-changing, and the mosques and imams can either initiate the change and empower the community, or be against it and have it forced on us.continue reading
Muslims appear to have forgotten how to have F**. It’s a very worrying trend. In fact, Muslims appear to go out of their way not to have F**, and with it we’ve lost our sense of humour too. Yes, the latest taboo is FUN!
Aaargh! I said it, fun, fun, fun. The Muslim community is adamant that we should have none of it, and in fact, that we should insist on being miserable.
I went to see a Muslim stand up comedian last night, a small Black American Muslim called Preacher Moss. He said he would tell people what he did and they would say “Astaghfirullah!” His routine had the audience in stitches, a young crowd who had probably worked hard all week, and were appreciating the chance to relax. The event was sponsored by a charity, and in his closing remarks the host said in his most Day-of-Judgement-is-nigh-voice “Remember! Excessive laughter weakens the soul”. Er, hello! We’re at a comedy evening!
Ms Yvonne Ridley too has joined the misery criers. She recently wrote a piece slating the sudden upsurge in boy bands. On this general point I have to agree with her. Her reason is that they are promoting haram activities (Muslim women swaying in the aisles and throwing their burqas on stage) which will spell the end of the known universe. My problem is that they are just so very bad that they make you cringe. Think Take That meets Sunday school children’s nasheed group. She asks, how on earth a Muslim could ever even possibly consider the notion of thinking about having fun and relaxing, when there is so much suffering in the world? Because we’re human, sister Yvonne? Because God made us so that we are recharged by a little humour and fun? OOPS! I said the F-word. Sorry. The guilt at having fun is almost enough to make you catholic.