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  • How much is a Lebanese life worth?

    I can’t bear to keep posting up figures of all the people killed in the attacks in Lebanon. In fact, I have felt so distressed that the world is sitting by and doing nothing, that I’ve been unable to write anything over the weekend. I’ve been trying to work out what is going to break the international community’s paralysis and stop the killing frenzy.

    It’s just so very hard to see how the US and my very own UK government can possibly toe the Israeli line in saying Israel has the right to totally destroy Lebanon. If I’m not mistaken Israel is supposed to be a Jewish state. Doesn’t Judaism direct its adherents to live in peace with its neighbours? Every time Israel doesn’t like what someone else is doing, it takes a heavy hand and literally steam rollers in. In my lifetime Israel has occupied more of its neighbours than any other middle eastern country. If Israel genuinely wants to live in peace, why does it keep picking fights?

    I was heartened this morning to hear that Human Rights Watch (whatever you may think of them) are investigating Israel for war crimes because they believe that Israel’s attacks are “indiscriminate and disproportionate”.

    However, my most horrific moment over the weekend was seeing photos of young Israeli children sending “gifts of love” on missiles destined for the children of Lebanon. These pictures were taken at a heavy artillery position near Kiryat Shmona close to the Lebanese border. You can argue your case as to whether these are real or not. But it falls into a pattern which highlights the inability of Israelis to see Arabs as human beings.

    I remember travelling to Jerusalem and Gaza in the late nineties when things were by comparison at a low level of activity. I would watch young Israeli soldiers with huge rifles and barely a hint of stubble on their chins, pulling over Arabs indiscriminately, demanding their ID, detaining them when they were clearly going about their own quiet business. I watched at the border with Gaza as they were herded like cattle through the high barbed wire fences and their possessions were tipped out of their bags and ransacked in the search for who knows what. I spoke to a young woman in Gaza who told me that in her twenty years of life she had never been permitted to visit Jerusalem and the holy sites – places less than 30 minutes drive away.

    The torture, the poverty, the pain must be unbearable, but what struck me most was how Israel had taken away these people’s human-ness. How it saw them just as pests, not human beings. And here we are again in Lebanon, with the same mindset seeping through.

    If I had to do some maths on the value of life it seems as though 2 Israeli military personnel kidnapped = 300 Lebanese civilians dead (and counting) and 500,000 Lebanese displaced.

    The tragedy is that the holocaust showed the heinously disgusting and disastrous results of dehumanising people through the way that the Nazis acted against those who were ‘other’. How tragic it is to see the victim turning perpetrator. The world after the second world war was supposed to be a brighter place. When did the flame of hope blow out?

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  • The disproptionate attacks increase


    Lebanese toll: more than 330
    Israeli toll: 34
    source: BBC

    Cartoon: Peter Brooks in the TimesOnline

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  • The bully in the playground

    Lebanese toll: 300 people have been killed and 500,000 displaced by the violence
    Israeli toll: 29 Israelis dead

    Is it still too early to stop these children being killed, injured, their lives torn?

    Israel, with its superior military might and technology, seems to like picking on little children.

    Pick on someone your own size.



    The UN says almost a third of the dead and wounded are children

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  • The numbers of dead increase

    The US negotiators have been sent back from Jerusalem being told it’s too early to begin discussions for a ceasefire. Too early to stop people being killed?
    When Lebanon is on its knees – “when the clock is put back 20 years in Lebanon” in the words of one of the Israeli ministers on Radio 4 this week – will they stop.

    The Security Council can’t agree on a way forward.

    A local radio station today led with the headline: “The ordeal is over in Lebanon”. Good news? Only for those foreigners who have been evacuated. The ordeal is certainly not over for the millions left behid.

    Lebanse toll so far: At least 270 Lebanese – mostly civilians – have died in the conflict.
    Israeli toll so far: Twenty-five Israelis have died, including 13 civilians killed by Hezbollah rocket attacks

    Source: BBC. Picture: Israeli tanks move into Lebanon

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  • Numbers, not names

    Since Wednesday:

    Lebanese toll: More than 200 Lebanese citizens have been killed in six days of Israeli strikes.
    Israeli toll: Twenty-four Israelis have died – 12 as a result of Hezbollah rocket attacks

    source: BBC
    picture: BBC, rubble from the bombing raids in Tyre

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  • British Hindu calls to drop the label "Asian" are misguided

    There is something a bit unnerving about the request coming from the British Hindu community that they reject the label “Asian” and would prefer to be called “Hindu” because of the misassociation with Muslims.

    The detail beneath this claim seems reasonable – the unique heritage, religious requirements and contributions of the Indian and East African Hindus needs distinction and sensitivity. They cite areas such as dietary requirements and funeral rites as examples. It is right that these should be addressed, and I sympathise with any minority that feels neglected or homogenised into another distinct group.

    But the sentiment of the headline is very worrying. This, along with some of the statements being made says “Hey, look at us, we’re integrated, we’re not those terrible Muslim people”. It seems very cowardly, trying to distance themselves from people who are often their ethnic brothers and sisters. Many East African Asians in this country are also Muslim, as is a large proportion of the Indian population, who no doubt share some of the wonderful statistics of wealth creation, education and prosperity that the Hindu community is now pushing forward.

    I don’t believe it’s in the interests of the Hindu community to isolate themselves in this way – in the long run they are Asians, just like other Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and even those in East Africa and the Middle East of subcontinental origin. Due to the heritage of the British empire, Asia has come to mean the subcontinent, whereas in North America, the term tends to refer to those we term as Oriental, such as the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and so on. Semantics are important, but in this case it seems to be riding on a wave of anti-Muslim-ism.

    If Hindus are being attacked because of anti Muslim feeling, then that should stop. As should violence and hate against Muslims who are equally not responsible for terrorist activities. The answer for the Hindu community is not to close ranks and shout about the fact they are not Muslims. The insidious message of this is that all Muslims are to blame. The answer is to address the source of the violence, which is perpetrated against all innocent people, not to say, “don’t attack us, attack those people over there.”

    Their stance reminds me of the poem about the Second World War. Trying to create a separation and pointing fingers is in no-one’s long term interest.

    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak outbecause I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak outbecause I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak outbecause I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for meand there was no one left
    to speak out for me.
    Pastor Martin Niemolle


    Check out more at:
    http://www.hinduforum.org/Default.aspx?sID=45&cID=149&ctID=43&lID=0
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5167332.stm

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  • Can swimwear be Islamic?


    I popped along to Islamexpo at the weekend along with several thousand other people. One of the things that caught my eye was a range of Islamic sportswear and swimwear for Muslim women, designed for the active hijab wearing Muslim woman. Check it out here.

    Her marketing blurb is slick – and also on target. Muslim sportswomen, whether amateur or professional are always focused on for the “Muslim” part of their identity, before people turn to their enthusiasm, success and talent in their chosen sport. She’s identified a huge gap in the market.

    She’s chosen to address it through clothing. But she prompts more interesting wider questions about general sporting facilities and participation for Muslim women. Where are the encouragement and the facilities?

    I remain sceptical about the idea of swimwear. When you go into the water, Ahiida’s designs are excellent. But when you come out of the water, your clothing is still skin tight, and although you are covered from head to foot, it’s the clinginess that is problematic, in my humble opinion. But maybe the design has some inflatable bubbles you can activate when you exit the water so your shape is hidden till the swimsuit dries out?

    But make up your own minds at www.ahiida.com.

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  • 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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