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Once upon a time, there was this thing called 'Multiculturalism'. 
I write about those turkeys who've voted for Christmas.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

On Suffrage

In a New Statesman article from October 2014, Willard Foxton put the case for the TV debates preceding the UK General Election to be more inclusive – in particular, for them to accommodate the Green Party. Despite the suspicion that the Greens bear the stigmata of the damned (i.e. dullness), he insisted that they should be included anyway because ‘…this isn’t just TV, guys.’ His point being that where a political party finds itself on the ‘sex appeal’ spectrum, should be irrelevant:

'…TV producers making these debates should not be chasing ratings, looking for the best guests – this is TV channels doing a huge public service, not the latter rounds of political X Factor.'

And the point has indeed registered – the second of the televised debates will include Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party, in a seven-way debate. Mission accomplished, then. Britain’s democracy is alive and well. Right..?

Oh, what a lovely war!

In an era of continuous, 360 degree media streams, the weight given to these flagship debates must be questioned. After all, what prospects can a political party expect when its message is regularly not broadcast (or broadcast but poorly amplified?) In modern, democratic politics, one axiom is clear: exploitation of media potential is not a side show - it is the show. Which elevates its gatekeepers to demi-gods:

History informs of the power of the media over public opinion - not just in Britain, but globally. When the Prols simply fall in line behind the Pied Pier, what matters is convincing him to play your tune:

So whose petition will be heard? The one who is right? The one who is earnest? The sop of Public Service aside, the media’s role is not to educate or inform. To strike a chord, one must aggravate the nation’s humors: hence the unceasing demand for agitation and titillation. And this is why UKIP are so ‘hot’, and conversely, why the Green Party suffers – their ‘dullness’ is not about individual personality, but rather, is bound up with their agenda; their mandate. Question – which of the following will make ‘better copy’: the breakup of the Antarctic ice sheet, or some muffled comment about golliwogs? Quite…

But we only reflect the concerns of ordinary people,’ is the stock defence to the ‘media created UKIP’ charge. In other words, the media is but a reactive organ. But this is subterfuge: the public’s concerns and priorities do not take shape in some hermetically-sealed environment. And that is why the surround-sound white noise generated by some theatre in a desert, and all that flows thereafter, takes top billing:


Dear Britain – who wants to discuss the economy? Or rather, who can discuss the economy? Who is able to grasp the thrust of debate, and keep up with argument and counter-argument? Or shall we just zoom out from all that tricky detail and enjoy the Punch and Judy show? Alternatively, to really capture everyone’s imagination, let’s brush all that boring, important stuff aside, and talk about immigration:

Friday, 6 March 2015

Jihadi John and Chris Kyle: brothers in arms

So we all now know that Jihadi John, the infamous master of masked ceremonies, is Mohammed Emwazi - a Kuwaiti-born West Londoner with ‘…anger-management issues.’

The revealing of his identity precipitated an intense debate around how he should be viewed: as a villain or a victim? For some, it must be said, he is but a hero: the ultimate expression of Muslim manhood; a diamond among false stones. Side-stepping that constituency, a more interesting tension lies between those who see him as the distilled manifestation of Islamo-fascism, and others who insist he is a victim, a reluctant fundamentalist: a one-time ‘beautiful young man', turned by the heavy hand of fate (i.e. MI5).  

Stepping back from the heat surrounding present debates, one notes the historic precedent for different groups viewing the same figure, through polar lenses. William Wallace, a leader during the wars of Scottish Independence, is someone who can still divide opinion. After his capture in 1305, the English tried and convicted him on charges of treason and, in an eerie echo that resonates through to the present with Alan Henning, ‘…for atrocities against civilians that spared neither age nor sex, monk or nun.’

Back to Emwazi, and the consensus that he is a brainwashed extremist - one whose innate violence was given a homecoming within the corpus of Islam, and thus for whom there can be no remorse, no mitigation. Fine. Now let’s switch focus to Chris Kyle, the decorated Navy Seal and veteran of the Iraq War, whose life story was made into the hugely successful film, American Sniper. In his autobiography, he wrote:

Clearly he bought into a popular narrative, but even a cursory look into history makes this admittedly neat perspective, seem ridiculous. Here’s an executive summary of recent Anglo-American/Iraqi relations:   

Following the 1991 Gulf War to ‘liberate Kuwait’ after Saddam Hussein's invasion, decade-long sanctions were imposed that, according to UNICEF, resulted in the deaths of half a million Iraqi children. Then in 2003, the US and UK initiated Gulf War II after successfully peddling what transpired to be a deliberately manufactured lie about weapons of mass destruction. According to Iraq Body Count, the invasion led to 112,000 violent civilian deaths. A group of US, Canadian and Iraqi University researchers reported a figure of 500,000. And due to the use of depleted uranium, doctors have since observed a massive spike in cancers and congenital deformities. All of which, for Chris Kyle, got collapsed down to ‘…they hated us cause we weren’t Muslim.’ 

It must be noted that Kyle loved his job – he delighted in killing Iraqis, and moreover, saw himself as a religious warrior:

The question that now surfaces is this: what is the difference between Jihadi John and Chris Kyle?

In both cases they willingly killed, their conscience cossetted by seductive fantasies: on the one hand, Jihad and al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State, and on the other, holy war and '...they hate us cause we're not Muslim'. Indeed the similarities are so striking, it would be easy to re-cast the eponymous American Sniper as a brainwashed fanatic: the sort of individual deserving execution, imprisonment, or at the very least, compulsory registration onto some de-radicalisation programme.

And the parallels continue - just as Western governments are concerned about shady figures radicalising young, impressionable minds via grainy videos of Jihadis and martyrs, Muslims are aghast at the effects of the West’s propaganda machinery - a.k.a Hollywood – on Western youngsters:

There is, however, one arresting difference: there is currently a vigorous and free-ranging debate among Muslims about Emwazi, and all that his very existence entails. In stark contrast, there is no mainstream discourse concerning Chris Kyle, and whether he deserves his heroic status. Indeed the very suggestion of the same would, in much of Pax Americana, be met by a brick wall.

A recent article suggested that ‘…terrorist ideologies would only be stopped when young people are taught to think for themselves.’ It’s a good point. However, boxed-in thinking and the export of terror may, in reality, be more deeply woven into the Western world, than the Muslim world. How’s that for irony?  

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo: crossing the Rubicon

“We have avenged the Prophet Mohammed,” declared the attackers at the offices of the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, as they executed 10 journalists and two police officers on 7th January, 2015.

Since Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against the author Salman Rushdie in 1989, through to the Jyllands-Posten ‘Mohammed’ cartoons of 2005 and beyond, there has been a debate over freedom of expression: in particular, the right to offend. And now, with such a brazen attack in Europe, in Paris, in cold daylight, and on journalists – those at the very forefront of the battle of ideas – many will hold that this is no longer a matter for polite debate, but an epoch-defining struggle between liberty and totalitarianism; between secular and fundamentalist forces.

Following the attack, the instinctive reaction was one of solidarity, and millions around the world took to the streets and social media to declare that they, too, were Charlie:

But does the journal merit such totemic status? The official line is that Charlie Hebdo is a leftist, secular publication that lampoons religion, holding Islamists in particular in its crosshairs. Indeed, some of its covers have made a distinction between Islamists and Islam, going as far as to portray the former as anathema to the latter:

However the same cannot be said of other artwork, which, without doubt, would have sickened anyone who self-identifies as Muslim:

The secular response to this is, of course, ‘…so what?’ In a world where there are no idols left, all that is sacred is the right to ideas: to analyse and critique anything, anyone, any belief. And yes – the right to offend. Liberty is only meaningful when all bets are off; where there are no sacred cows.

Fine… So let’s see how that ideal stands up from other angles. Here are some more illustrations, the first depicting black French politician, Christiane Taubira, followed by a front cover that dovetails commentary on Boko Haram with domestic politics:

To the untrained eye these might look like ugly, racial caricatures, but others will claim that, in context, they are anything but. That with full view of the French political landscape, an understanding of the journal’s unique selling point (i.e. radical subversion), and an appreciation of satire, these are actually sophisticated statements.

Still, one wonders, is everyone getting the joke? How are these images being received, digested and assimilated, on the French Street? Is it not sophistry to defend the following depiction of a delighted Pope, on discovering that the French are ‘…as dumb as niggers’?:

Running further with the blank-cheque of ‘free speech’, here’s Insurgent, a white-supremacist magazine in the US, with their take on Black history:

I await the liberal clamour to hold this in the same, sacred space. All freedom-loving people of the world repeat after me: Je Suis Insurgent!!

And looking into the history of Europe, here’s an uncanny resemblance from the Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, to Charlie Hebdo’s venerated expression of freedom:

Spot the difference?


Back to the present, and depictions from Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza that were printed in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, before being withdrawn. The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies accused Fairfax Media of racial vilification and demanded an apology for the cartoon, which they said was “a grotesque stereotype of a Jew”: 

And In perhaps the ultimate irony, Charlie Hebdo themselves have shown that, in actuality, all bets are not off: in 2009 they dismissed one of their own cartoonists over anti-Semitism.


Here’s an interesting fact… On the same day as the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s offices, terrorists struck in Yemen, killing 37 graduates from a police academy. As the world’s media went into a 9/11-esque meltdown over events in Paris, suggesting that this was the worst calamity to hit planet Earth since that fateful day in 2001, it was not even the worst terror attack on that Wednesday. And yet, the world stopped spinning for Charlie:

UN Council standing in silence after the Paris attack -

One wonders who else’s death might merit the same global shudder? Clearly not those of some hapless Yemenis, but more interestingly, neither did the killing of journalists in Gaza (2014), or Al Jazeera journalists being blown up by US forces in Iraq (2003).

Bien sur, everyone is equal, but some are clearly more equal than others…

Commenting in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, said: ‘…We (Europeans) have our own culture based on Christianity, Judaism & humanism...' This is a valid point. It is reasonable for the majority to expect minorities outside of this framework, to accept the dominance of this axis in the public sphere. That some proportion of Muslims do not is, without qualification, a massive problem. The reality of émigré Muslims who are happy to live under the protection of a foreign flag, benefitting from shared resources, and yet feel they can impose their values through threats and violence, presents a huge challenge to modern European states; one that they must counter. That the de facto media coverage however casts a cloud over every Muslim, is risible. The scale and ‘slant’ of popular presentation feeds the ‘clash of civilizations’ notion, with ever deeper battle lines being dug between ‘Islam and the West’. It’s a miscalculation on many levels. Further, it paralyses the ‘Muslim’ response, with all reduced to merely bleating cod apologies and running through inane defences (i.e. Islam is a religion of peace). Ironically, the same fear factor that liberals bemoan vis-à-vis discussing Islam, is being applied in reverse.

There is of course more to Charlie Hebdo than Muslim-baiting, but I am free to judge the journal by its lowest common denominator, and thus conclude that the #JeSuisCharlie sentiment is naïve. Or put another way, I too reserve the right to analyse, critique, offend – and insult. If I don’t write you a blank cheque of support, that does not turn me into Al-Baghdadi’s foot soldier. My place in this world is not simply to express solidarity and shame. I will not be pinned down and inspected on some secular Judgement Day, by the god of Western Outrage. Why..? Because I didn’t kill anyone. What happened in Paris on 7th January 2015, really had nothing to do with me.




Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Sofa Traumas - distress in a cushioned world

After having his morning coffee cum Twitter catch-up ruined by a photo of executed Syrian soldiers, +Jay Ulfelder was prompted to ask – ‘What are all these violent images doing to us?’

Facetiousness aside, the question raised is entirely valid. The author is a political scientist and thus, like a journalist, will be particularly exposed to such imagery. But the Internet has proved a great leveller – from beheadings to bestiality, it’s all just a click away. Furthermore, social media has transformed people from passive consumers of news, into active participants in the Information Wars; shaping opinion and setting the agenda via what is posted and shared online. And as the stakes get higher, any due courtesy for ‘taste’ or decency is sacrificed, to drive home a point. Thus the concern applies beyond those with a professional interest – to the rest of us too, observing our warring world via a comfy chair, a broadband connection and a steaming cuppa.

Never has this been more evident than during Israel’s July 2014 assault on Gaza, during which armchair warriors from across the globe flooded every channel with their version of truth.

Since then, the impetus has been stolen by those fighting in Syria and Iraq, with, ironically, ISIS Jihadis and their opponents posting identical photos – in both cases, to show the world what medieval warfare and remorselessness really look like. And thus the author’s concerns hold weight - the 360-degree, 24/7 bombardment with images from, what we until recently believed was another age, may well leave some psychic detritus.

But before we turn to liquor or Deepak Chopra to soothe our furrowed brows, we should ponder on the trauma levels of those enmeshed in such chaos. A good place to start is September 11th, 2001, and the intimate examination of human suffering that followed the attack on the Twin Towers.

Every life so suddenly taken, every mother, widow and orphaned child; all those anguished embraces, bitter tears and acts of heroism – it was zoomed in on, played forward in slow-mo, put on a loop and preserved for eternity. America will, in a quite literal sense, never forget.

Clearly, the same trauma amongst viewers was evident back then – in fact, far more so. For these weren’t just gory pictures from afar, these were ‘our’ own people, our kith and kin, with the immediate and subsequent footage making New Yorkers of us all. But, as traumatic as it was to take in, the psychic harm done to watchers-on was nothing as compared to those caught in the eye of the storm – and thus we just continued soaking it all in, in reverential silence. Indeed, to give more than fleeting thought to personal distress, would instinctively have felt wrong – no, *obscene*.

Now let’s fast forward to the present, and Jihadis bringing beheadings gate-crashing into the 21st Century... The shockwaves from that macabre ‘theatre’ have rippled across the globe, and, arguably, forced the Obama administration into military action. However, that begs the question, why haven’t the deaths of thousands of Iraqis, Syrians and Kurds at the hands of the same butchers, evoked similar distress? Sure, pictures of dead Arabs can put one off one’s coffee, but do they trigger the same dissonance as, say, an American in an orange jumpsuit, kneeling helpless in the desert..? As the ISIS commander well knows, a thousand dead Wogs ain’t worth one dead American.

An unknown Kurd
A tsunami of highly charged coverage has followed the executions of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines: stunned relatives of the slain appearing before TV cameras, handsome-young-man photos being shared online, to remind the world of the fine and beautiful people we have lost, and help forget their final moments. The brother of David Haines, haunting the Muslim conscience by reading passages from the Qur’an. But for the countless Arab victims of ISIS, there is no such corollary, no tribute in death. And that difference matters, which is why individuals have started doing it themselves.

To a degree, the difference in reaction is entirely natural – we all have a sense of ‘our own’, and no-one need apologise for feeling a heightened empathy with a defined subset of humanity. However, where the disparity is such that one no longer sees others through the same, human lens, those on the receiving end will react.

In Jay Ulfelder's sober, intelligent and cogently argued piece, there is actually no hole to pick. Except to say that if you are feeling bruised by what you see on the news or online, by all means, light a scented candle and re-align your Chakras - but understand the context for the assault on your Timelines. For until the BBC/Fox/CNN audience get that Wogs are flesh-and-blood human beings, whose deaths leave the same, terrible wounds on loved-ones left behind, people will feel compelled to keep ramming that point home.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Muslim Problem

In his siren call to the nation over the 'Muslim Problem', Dan Hodges joins up the recent dots of British Muslim dishonour - "...Isil. Trojan Horse schools. Sex gangs. Tower Hamlets..." - to draw a picture of a community in crisis.

As a British Muslim, I desperately want to decry it as an ugly caricature, but I can't - the depiction captures a very real malaise. It is impossible to disagree that there is "...a gaping – and widening – fissure between [the nation at large] and Britain’s Muslims", or that "...in front of our eyes, an entire section of British society is..being left to break off and simply drift away."

But in failing to spear the elephant-sized target - "...I don’t know why we have a specific problem of Muslim integration. I’m not sure anyone does." - he raised the ire of +Raheem Kassam, who in his response, concluded that Mr Hodges is actually blaming "...you. And your family. And everyone else except Britain's ghettoised Muslim communities." Leaving aside Mr Kassam's issues with basic logic, Dan Hodges' failure to just state the obvious was indeed anti-climactic. So let's do just that - the 'Muslim Problem' is, primarily, one of a strand of Muslim thinking that, simply put, has no place in Britain, Europe, the West or the East. From London to Lahore, there can be no accommodation for a philosophy that revels in confrontation, ignorance and war. But if this epoch-defining Jihad is to be won, then the battle must be lead by Muslims themselves. And therein lies the rub - for whilst this cancer within the Muslim corpus has perhaps always existed, its growth is, without doubt, a function of hate; a response to hate.

I'll take a punt... the British kids who've joined ISIS are not, in the main, fired with religious zeal. What inspires them is the chance to coalesce under an Islamic flag, hold their heads up high, and fight - to finally respond to the hatred that they've quietly been absorbing, for years. For these youths are the product of a venomous public discourse vis-a-vis Islam and Muslims, that has been skewering their psyche, pretty much daily, for as long as they can remember.

Having grown up under a cloud of suspicion, and been tagged as fanatics, they've called the nation's bluff and descended into fanaticism. It's the ultimate self-fulfilling prophecy.

Following each new 'dot' in the picture, the 'Professional Islamophobe Vs Professional Muslim' merry-go-round comes to town. And as Dan Hodges correctly points out, it's a circus of which many of us are now tired. If a change is to come it has to be lead by the Ummah, who must acknowledge their own problem, and *theologically* defeat the enemy within. Convincing the 'Muslim Streeet' though, is perhaps more about emotion, than theology - and for that, the casual, even gleeful pinning of Muslims at large to the lunatic fringe, has to stop. For if people are forever told they are on the outside, they'll eventually stop knocking, and simply go elsewhere.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Islamic States

 “No one town or city is more suitable for you than another. The best of places is the one that bears you and provides for you.”

Ali Ibn Abi Talib SA

In his article, itself a response to another by Mehdi Hasan, Dilly Hussain writes that “…it is preposterous to reject an Islamic State as having no ‘theological’, ‘historical’ or ‘empirical’ evidence.” Later, he adds, “…to suggest that the state of Medina under the Prophet Mohammed SA and its political infrastructure cannot be used as an analogy for a modern Islamic State, is as absurd as saying that a horse and carriage cannot be considered a mode of transport since it lacks the modern features of a car.”

It’s a valid and well put point – Islam is not only a personal, or 'private' faith. It covers all aspects of life, from the micro to the macro: from brushing one’s teeth and loving your wife, to the rules of warfare and governance. The idea of an Islamic State, is, unarguably, an eternal hope for a Muslim.

However, that begs the question, how should a Muslim determine the legitimacy of such a state – and, in particular, of the person who drives a stake into the earth, hoists a flag, and declares himself King? Can there be more than one 'King'? Can anyone do it? Is it based on courage, brazenness, might, right, money, something else..? Just how is a Muslim to separate wheat from chaff; a true leader from a clown? And beyond that, whose Muslim state is it anyway? That of the Whirling Dervish, or of mainstream Sunni Muslims, or of ISIS..?

But for all the talk of Islamic States, what of where Muslims live today: in Britain, the United States, Pakistan, Tanzania, China, Russia..? What is a Muslim’s role, his or her responsibility to the country in which one resides? Whilst there is no conflict between aspiring to an Islamic State, and hand-in-hand living as an active, contributing member of a secular state, not every aspirant meets such a benchmark. Indeed, the fault-line betweens Muslims and non-Muslims in the West, centres on this very point - that some represent, overtly, a 'fifth column'. And there is a blatant contradiction in living somewhere, **anywhere**, under the protection of a flag and benefiting from shared resources, whilst being antagonistic. What bitter harvest, in having no care to contribute to a society's betterment, but instead being openly hostile?

"Mingle with people in such a way that as long as you live they are drawn towards you, and when you are no longer amidst them they weep for you." Ali Ibn Abi Talib SA

However one approaches all the above, one thing should be clear – that Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s vision for an Islamic State, needs no academic, intellectual or even theological debate – it offends basic, common sense.

Beheading an Iraqi soldier

For those that disagree, and who view the ISIS brand as the zenith of Islamic expression, well… It is time for them to go and leave the rest of us, non-Muslims and the majority of Muslims alike, in peace.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Do Muslims need to condemn ISIS?

In his article examining the siren-call for ‘Muslims to condemn ISIS’, Sunny Hundal makes some excellent points:

  1. Most of those fighting ISIS, are Muslim.
  2. Most victims of ISIS, are Muslim.
  3. Moreover, the same demand is not made of other minorities: notably, Jews were not – are not - being asked to condemn Israel, over its bombardment of Gaza.

However, some troubling aspects need illuminating:

Most importantly, ISIS claim to be acting in line with the Holy Qur’an and Hadith. This is so crucial a point, it is worth repeating - the 'Muslim violence merely reflects Islam' position, is not one simply being taken by antagonists, but by those calling themselves Muslim. The Islamic State's justification - and inspiration - for taking slaves, expelling Christians, public beheadings etc etc, is their interpretation of the ultimate source for Muslims: God's book, and the example laid down by His Prophet (SA):

Here's a more sober explanation of the same ideology:

Finally, the British historian, Tom Holland, covers similar ground here, but with particular reference to the happy-snaps being posted online by ISIS Jihadis, alongside those they behead:

It is therefore undeniable that, for some Muslims, ISIS represent the purest form of Islam, with all other interpretations being some degree of corruption. 

In this context, Muslim condemnation of ISIS is not enough – the ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ defence, is, surely, dead. Moreover, given the tsunami of Muslim rage over Israel's collective punishment of Gazans, the Ummah's more muted, even ambivalent, response towards the destruction of churches and the expulsion of Iraqi Christians, and the treatment ISIS have meted out to Yazidis and other minorities, has, rightly, attracted attention.

The Ummah's energy is wasted by crying foul over Anglo-American hypocrisy, however true. It needs urgent focus to defeat ISIS **theologically** – not for purposes of PR, but to reclaim the religion for future generations.