I admit that logic does not necessarily have a place in international relations, but each time I hear this claim that da’ish want us to attack them, I find myself asking, “Why would they do that?”

If I had a mind to create my own State, I would start by making alliances. I probably wouldn’t try to provoke the most powerful army in the world into sending more stealth bombers, drones, aircraft carriers and cruise missiles to attack and wipe out my nascent state.

Maybe these people just have confidence I don’t. Maybe a fleet of Toyota Helux pickups really can take on a fleet of F-35B Lightning joint strike fighters (if so, somebody better start questioning the cost effectiveness of that particular $1.1 trillion project).

Either these people have been raised on different books to me — The Prince or Tauromaquia perhaps — or this script has been written really badly. To go boldly where so many have gone before: it is all highly illogical.

Manufactured schisms

Religious groups are just as capable of engaging in cunning marketing schemes as commercial organisations (if, indeed, such a distinction exists).

The mere mention of a banned video with a traditional religious message in the run up to Christmas was guaranteed to be splashed all over the press in a frenzy of head-shaking disbelief in no time.

What we have seen over the past few days is merely a more sophisticated version of the tried and tested viral marketing campaigns employed by all kinds of religious and political groups daily on social media.

Step one: make an almighty fuss about something nobody would have otherwise known about. Step two: sit back and relax as it goes viral in a self-perpetuating cycle of manufactured hurt, offence and counter-offence.

Give your PR company a raise.

Smoke and mirrors

It’s intersting that the media is abuzz with panic about the mercenary army.

It’s not the mercenary army that’s sending its bomber jets to the edges of UK air space. Nor do they have nuclear submarines lurking off the northern Scottish coast, which only our French allies can detect because we scrapped our own recognisance aircraft.

Yes, the mercenary army has its sympathisers capable of committing attrocities as we have seen, but they pose no existential threat.

Is David Cameron’s rushed procurement of military hardware really about mercenary armies armed with Toyota pick-ups and cannon-fodder? Or is it about a nuclear power flexing its muscles?

Russia tested the waters in Ukraine. Nobody did anything.

They are now in Syria, bombing rebels armed by the US and its allies. Nobody did anything.

Could it be that, behind closed doors, the powers that be are just a little alarmed by this bold new resurgent Russia?

False witness

It is disturbing how willingly we will share photographs from one situation and pass them off as new images of another.

We have witnessed this repeatedly this week as France stepped up its bombing campaign against ISIS.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there have been civilian casualties as a result of this action.

However, every one of the phtotographs provided as evidence has on investigation turned out to be several months old. Some actually depict the victims of the regime’s bombardments.

Using photographs of one conflict to depict another is not just unethical, but also alters the historical narrative. Who nowadays recalls the crimes of the regime?

The land that welcomed Emir Abdel Kader

When the French invaded Algeria in 1830 they were met with fierce resistance from its Muslim scholars. In time these scholars lost the war against the French. About 500 of them were expelled from Algeria with their families, never to return. However they were welcomed somewhere else: in Damascus.

The area where they settled is called Hay alMuhajireen, the neighborhood of the migrants. They thrived in Damascus and enriched it.

After the scholars were expelled, a man rose and led the revolution against the French armies. His name was alAmir Abdel Kader. He fought for many years and was a champion of human rights. Even his prisoners had rights. In the end, however, he also had to surrender.

The Emir, his family and followers were taken into captivity in France. He was moved to Toulon, then Pau and then the Amboise castle. The physical and moral health of the Emir deteriorated during their stay at this castle. Victor Hugo (French), Lord George of Londonderry (British) and others campaigned for his release.

The Emir was released after Napoleon Bonaparte became ruler and he thought about where to move next. He was contacted by the Algerian scholars in Damascus, who invited him to move to them. Eventually he moved there and was later buried next to aShaykh Muhyideen. They were spiritually one.

During his stay in Damascus, the Druze attacked the Christians and killed many of them. The Emir opened the doors of his house and many fleeing Christians took refuge therein. The Druze even came to his door asking for the Christians to be released to them. His reply was that if they did not go away he would call his compatriots and would fight them.

For this, many rulers of the time decorated him or sent him gifts. The list includes Queen Victoria, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln and others. He was recognised as a vehicle for peace in this troubled world. The United States have named a town after him.

There are undoubtedly some bad people in Syria. However some of its people are amongst the greatest people alive.


Defining our narrative

We need to reclaim our narrative from politicised activists who seek to divide us. In focusing exclusively on Islamophobia, real and imagined, they promulgate a polarised and negative depiction of society, which completely ignores the positive and encouraging interfaces of British Muslims with the wider community.

Try searching for Muslim Scouts or Charity Week on the most popular activist news website to claim to represent what Muslims are thinking. You might have thought that these two very successful and positive youth movements within the Muslim community might elicit frequent mention. But no, you will discover nothing at all.

All around the country, grassroots groups are making positive contributions to their communities: they are promoting learning opportunities and engaging in charity and social work. Here we witness positive interactions between a religious minority and mainstream organisations, whether in fundraising for a local hospital, supporting a cancer trust or working together on significant local issues.

All of these efforts are ignored by the politicised advocacy groups which claim to represent us all, for they do not fall into the neat division of the world into us and them. But unfortunately it is these groups that are taking us with them and not the other way around. We are all being dragged down into adopting the perpetual narrative of doom and gloom that will help set us against each other.

We need to define our own narrative, which is informed not by the extremes of left and right, and of patriot and anti-imperialist, but by our realities on the ground.

People of truth

One of the most painful discoveries of the seeker is that we are not, by and large, people of truth. There are amongst us honest, upright people, who will bear witness to truth, even against themselves, but the masses sadly have no compunction in sharing convenient untruths.

The question which occurs to the seeker is this: why do we talk about the importance of trustworthy chains of narration and verifying the information that comes to us in our tradition, if we do not institute it in our own lives with regard the information we receive from friend and foe?

It’s great calling the seeker a self-righteous, pompous fool for perpetually objecting to claims that can clearly be shown to be erroneous at best and downright lies at worst; it’s probably true, for we are all in need of inner reform and humility. But this principle of verification has always been the selling point of this deen: that we’re a people who cares about the truth.

Are we really? More often we seem to believe in political expediency. We believe in contingent truths. If an untruth serves our interests, we will share it. If the whole truth is too much to bear, we will edit it, conceal a part of it, chop it in half, censor it and alter it. Every sect, political movement and commercial organisation has its own truths, refined and honed to counter the truths of the other. There are our truths, and then there is the truth.

As a community we would be better replacing the notion of the pursuit of knowledge with the pursuit of truth. You may say this really means the same thing, but the latter would better focus our efforts on the ultimate goal. It might also help us remember to be people of truth, and not just wanderers taking sides.


The daily reading of the Facebook news feed is an instructive illustration of how myths easily and permanently solidify into undeniable realities: once an untruth has been repeatedly recounted it becomes real and true in the popular imagination. Preposterous embellishments only make it seem truer still: even if we disagree on the details, agreement on the core guarantees that the original claim was always broadly true. In past times legends had decades to incubate; today our myths are instantaneous. Depressing, but fascinating all the same.

That Nativity Play

Amusing as this constant stream of memes circulating on Social Media is, seeking as they do to compare Syrian refugees to the Christmas Nativity, I can’t help thinking people are getting their stories mixed up.

The Biblical narrative doesn’t describe Mary and Joseph as refugees: they’re simply registering for a census in their home town, taking a circuitous route from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

There certainly is an episode after the birth in which they flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s murderous decree, where they remain until he passes away: an asylum tale of sorts.

Of course the Nativity tale in popular culture as it is enacted each year by primary schools the world over is subject to all sorts of embellishments not found in the Biblical tradition — so it could mean whatever you want it to.

The reality is that compassionate people do not need to be moved by a false retelling of their religious tradition in order to act on behalf of the poor and vulnerable: they will act anyway.

But more to the point: we each project ourselves — our political leanings, our prejudices, our worldview, our culture, our environment — onto our respective religious traditions. This applies to all people at all times. Simplistic, if amusing, soundbites aren’t going to change the world.


If on Remembrance Sunday we had been able focus less on who was wearing a poppy and more on the tragedy of that hideous war that was supposed to end all wars, how might we be reacting to this weekend’s terrible events? Less than two weeks after that profound moment of silence we are beating the drums of war one more. We make mockery of ourselves.