DeenPort Runaways

It’s a long time since I’ve had the ability to post comments on the DeenPort forum. I deleted my account over five years ago and though I sometimes feel compelled to join again in order to respond to a particular thread, it appears that MAMA (the automated moderation system) is set to immediately auto-ban me. So instead I look on from afar, checking in now and then to see what people are talking about these days.

I would say that the majority of the discussions are of little interest to me — pseudo-intellectual theological dialectics have a tendency to send me running for the hills, while talk of Traditionalism tends to provoke a nasty allergic reaction. But still there are topics which occasionally piqué my interest. Mention Turkey, Turkish politics, Armenians, Kurds, religious and ethnic minorities, leftists and fascists and so forth, and I will be there wishing I could contribute something to the discussion others may have missed.

Of course having family links to a region or ethnic group does not automatically make one an authority, but it does provide insights that a reading of the incoherent ramblings of a once great journalist writing in the press might not. Given that my in-laws are ethnically Turkish Armenian, mostly self-identifying as Socialists, spread out across many regions of Turkey, from CHP strongholds, to AKP centres and ODP heartlands, I find myself in a position to counter some seriously ill-informed comment by journalists and forum contributors alike. Unfortunately MAMA does not agree, so those sentiments remain unsaid.

Over the past few weeks, a few such discussions have emerged on DeenPort, centring on what the recent Turkish election results mean for President Erdogan and whether the Kurds have been made a political scapegoat as a consequence on those results. Of course these are complicated questions and I’m not sure I have anything to add to the debate that has not already been said. Some contributors provided nuanced responses to the question, while others — claiming to be voices of reason — offered inexplicably extreme answers to the problems they identified. Some of the better, more balanced and informed comments were later deleted.

Which really brings me onto the purpose of this post — somewhat belatedly: why do people delete comments, threads or even their entire profile from DeenPort so often? If I had to hazard a guess, it would be the appalling lack of manners of some of the more active contributors and their — seemingly unaware — extreme views. A dwindling few of us still hold a place for Islamic adab or good old English manners. Just as we would expect a professional to treat his colleagues or clients in a respectful manner, so we come to expect it of the faithful when they interact with others whether online or in the street.

When I deleted my profile five years or so ago, it was for a number of reasons. There was the fear of timewasting, conscious of the addictive nature of posting small words on a small screen. There was also the desire to head for the hills, disappear and be forgotten. But a part of it was also escaping the peculiar battles that took place with strange regularity, often over the most meaningless and insignificant point. Most of those conflicts have dried up now, or moved elsewhere to be fought out on Facebook and Twitter, where we technological luddites can no longer reach them.

Good robust discussions, difference of opinion, considered argument; I’m all for them — in fact the more the better. I agree with some of the unpopular arguments put forward on the forum; I disagree with others. This is the world we reside in. But there’s a difference between making a considered argument and just being plain insulting or dismissive, belittling your opponents for no clear reason other than for the mere thrill of it.

Of course this particular user may have completely unconnected reasons for removing their posts. Perhaps like others of us, they just thought, ‘I can’t be bothered with this.’ Perhaps it was fear of the Turkish censor in light of critical remarks about the President. Perhaps they just got bored.

Still, I think that if MAMA ever found it in her algorithmic heart to let me join the club again, I’d quickly get riled by the kinds of comments I’ve witnessed in recent months. Call it being thin skinned — undoubtedly — but there are certain kinds of behaviour you don’t expect from adults, some in their fifties and in respected careers. How can those who follows a path that places such emphasis on good manners and perfecting our character behave in such an odious manner?

Soft talk, you say: don’t be such a feeble wimp. Sure, that’s often said. In modern times that’s what people say about ‘speak good or remain silent’. In these days of barbarism, it’s what people say to ‘show mercy to whatever is on the earth’.

‘Facilitate things for people. And do not make it hard for them. And give them glad tidings. And do not make them run away.’ Our Prophet said these words too — peace be upon him. But you would never have thought it by the way we behave. I don’t expect anything to change, so go ahead MAMA: carry on autobanning me for all eternity. It’s definitely for the best.

Of Ice Cream, Apples and Lollipops

I respect your right to boycott companies you believe to be supporting Illegal Occupation. But some consistency please.

The other day I was asked to forgo a delicious serving of top quality ice cream on a day out because it was manufactured by a local subsidiary of a massive Anglo-Dutch multinational, which up until two years ago had another local subsidiary operating in Illegal Settlements in Occupied Territory.

Bowing to international pressure from the boycott movement, that multinational has now closed its subsidiary’s plant in Occupied Territory and ceased operations there. So congratulations, problem solved: a success story for the movement.

Of course that outcome makes no difference to the army of activists ready to pounce on every ill-considered purchase, suspect barcode or teatime treat. I still don’t get to eat my ice cream, because though the parent company of this local subsidiary has ceased operations deemed illegal, it nevertheless continues to invest in a state which is engaged in an Illegal Occupation.

And this is where I start to get agitated by the inconsistencies of the activists. Believe me, I’m not just bitter at being deprived my sugar and fat fix for that day. I’m really not that big an ice cream junky. It’s the selectiveness at play.

Why am I asked to forgo a fruity ice cream worth a few pennies, but activists are willing to make an exception to principles in order to get their hands on Apple’s new iPhone 6, worth several hundred pounds? Indeed, isn’t it at all problematic that there’s a clever iPhone App for the boycott movement, given that Apple is such a big investor in the state?

Of course it’s not just Apple: Intel, Microsoft, Google, HP, Motorola, Qualcomm, Broadcom, HP, Cisco Systems, eBay, Facebook, Amazon, SanDisk, VMware, IBM and many more tech companies we rely on daily are all big investors in the state.

The technologies we rely on daily are the elephant in the room. It’s easy to tell people to buy different jam or eat a different cheese, to avoid this detergent or that brand of carbonated sugary water. But who’s willing to jettison Android, iOS or Windows in favour of some technological homebrew, untainted by the unparalleled Research and Development of an advanced colonial state? Very few.

The other day we abandoned our quest for oh-so-tasty ice cream in that breezy garden on a hill. Instead we sat in a hot car outside a supermarket on a busy road in the city centre and ate a poor substitute on lolly sticks. Clearly even that was a luxury given that the victims of the Occupying State mostly live in abject poverty, affected constantly by water shortages, discrimination and extreme brutality on a daily basis.

But I must confess that I was not a willing participant in that act of boycott: I was a participant in hypocrisy, looking up details on the alleged sins of the ice cream company via a Google search on an Android smartphone with a Qualcomm chip. It was gesture politics at its worst.

Tests

Others are tested by their circumstances. I am consistently tested by myself. And consistently fail. The battle with the nafs is unending. Success always illusory. Disappointed by myself but evidently not disappointed enough to change.

Misadventures

Ah, I see we are beating the drums of war again. What a way to commemorate those who died in terrorist attacks in London a decade ago. What a way to mourn the dead! Will these vicious cycles of violence never end? Have we learned nothing from our last misadventure in Libya? From the anarchy which filled the vacuum left behind; from the unleashing of the jihadist, takfiri armies; from the endless stream of refugees embarking across the Mediterranean from Tripoli? Two Gulf Wars are ancient history, let alone Operation Boot or the Suez Crisis. The world is set ablaze. Somebody tell our leaders that you can’t dampen the flames by smothering them with petrol. Somebody call the peace makers. Or must we just resign to more killing, more war? Must we just resign to death and destruction and this war without end? Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

The steadfast

Remaining steadfast after repentance: what is the trick? The repentance that came from nowhere on the 15th of Muharram was so sincere and sweet and true. It was like a new beginning. A night in prayer. Tears. Forehead to the floor. There came that resolve never, never to return. To pull back. To start anew. There were evident signs in the air. A week of goodness followed. And then what? What changed? A door opened a crack? A passing thought made real? Wonderment? Doubt? Addiction? The assault of the eternal what if? And though I repent again, it does not feel real like last time; how can it be accepted now, after the fall, the return. Here the month of Mercy. Could it be expiation for my sins? Could it purify me and rectify for me my affairs? Will I let it? Can I remain steadfast and true? Or shall I forever remain like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind? What is the secret of the steadfast?

Strangers

There I was enjoying my quiet backwater of the web—my website usually receives between 5 and 20 visits a day, most of them probably from myself—when all of a sudden, 250 clicks turn up at once. I blame a stray reader with a massive Twitter following. My five minutes of fame. Back to normal tomorrow I hope.

Ramadan Mubarak everyone. May Allah purify us, forgive us and make us better people. Remember us in your prayers.

Pointing fingers

Another day and another tale of a family in disarray as sisters, wives, daughters, sons make the journey to their new utopia in the heart of Syria, apparently oblivious to the millions of refugees who have fled the country with their lives.

Back home, meanwhile, the local community expresses shock and surprise. Imams insist: not our fault, these people are being radicalised online. This is called having your head stuck in sand.

If our mosques provided services for women and young people, delivered relevant sermons in a common language, put aside ridiculous sectarian and tribal squabbles, I am pretty sure many of these people would not seek out alternative guidance online.

It is a tragedy, of course, but the online world is simply filling a gap. You don’t get to choose how people fill the void you leave wide open.