In defence of losers

I used to be extremely timid in company. These days I find myself accidentally challenging people when they start making sweeping generalisations and outlandish claims. I don’t mean to be contrary. But really, someone needs to be the dissenting voice, offering an alternative perspective. Even if everyone thinks that the dissenting one is an idiot as a result.

Of course traditional wisdom states that you sit in silence when the enlightened are speaking, nod your head and keep your thoughts to yourself. That’s good manners. Maybe I should just do that, as I used to.

But it’s hard when people start dissing your people — the geeks, misfits and socially awkward. Nope, somebody has to give them a voice.

So disrespect the losers — the introverts, the shy, the socially awkward, the quiet ones — in my company at your peril. It’s a trigger. We who sit behind our keyboards, typing, typing, expressing ourselves in the written word, because it’s the only way we know how: yes, in real life we are the nobodies, the insignificant, the fabled losers of our time. Insecure, perhaps. Or perhaps merely misunderstood.

Introverts may shun public spaces. We may descend into a gibbering wreck when confronted with conversation. We may lack the social skills of the movers and shakers of the world. But perhaps in our writing we find our voice. In our words in print, or in pixels momentarily brought alive on bright screens by the wizardry of technology, we too contribute to the world around us.

The same nafs that meets and greets people out in the world, types upon keyboards set before us. The challenges are the same. The extremes need not define the whole. Terrorism does not define activism, nor do trolls define the web. The same nafs must be tamed, in each sphere we find ourselves in, be it social media or the board room. The true seeker is a man of his time. He does not rebuild that distant romantic past, resorting to a monkish apathy to his own age: he lives in these times, negotiating the modes and means of the present.

Perhaps the keyboard of these times can be a tool of liberation for some. Perhaps a social lubricant for others. Perhaps we are not all just losers, who could never survive out in the real world. Perhaps we have jobs that require us to sit in silence for long periods of time, to concentrate and code, or write, or edit, or draw, or paint, or think. Perhaps we have managers who value us for the quality of our output, despite our wonky teeth, slouching backs and annoying nasal voices.

A technology-enabled world is not for everyone. Some detest it, and would run for the hills when offered a keyboard, mouse, or tablet. So run! But technology has always enabled me to do my best work. To work in remote and far flung places, but still submit my projects on time. To converse across oceans. To collaborate with people across nations. Technology is a tool, not the be all and end all.

You have to get up and go out. To walk in the hills. Stretch those legs. And you have to exercise your mind and morals: to decide whether to be truthful, whether to verify information before passing it on, whether to talk to certain people or not. Yes, we need a fiqh and adab for the web.

But for giving the losers, the introverts, the numb, the socially awkward and the quiet ones a voice, I’m grateful for these technologies the enlightened now deride. Some are fighters. Some are writers. Here’s to the losers!

Investigate

It’s heartening that there are people in modern times who dedicate their time to checking facts. Tracing claims to their source, mapping the path of the information as it spread worldwide. Investigating the contents of the claims. They are the modern inheritors of the sciences of isnad and matn.

But it is disheartening that they are rarely Muslim, and that in complete reverse, it is often Muslims who spread the unverified junk without a moment’s pause, purely because such claims confirm to their worldview or what they wish to believe.

This Quranic maxim is the last thing we want to hear:

O you who have believed, if an ungodly man comes to you with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.

Our home

This week’s European court of justice ruling to allow the hijab to be banned in the workplace has drawn yet another line in the sand. It is time to move from Europe opine Muslim commentators everywhere; time to flee the coming catastrophe. Muslims should return to their Muslim lands, we are told, to remove themselves from harm’s way.

How ironic. A number of Muslim-majority countries themselves had workplace hijab-bans in place until recently, and Europe was often a refuge in those times. Europe is a continent of contradictions. It has its left and right. Those that welcome refugees and those that despise them. Liberalism and illiberalism.

Muslims are a small minority (less than 7%), often a convenient scapegoat in times of economic crisis, and yet many Muslims (and other minorities) cherish the freedom to believe and practice their faith as they please that Europe has generally granted them over the past few decades. Of course there are exceptions: French White Supremacy has always had a problem with the descendants of nations it brutally colonised, and there are worldwide trends of a push towards the right.

But in reality there is ease and difficulty intertwined for the Muslim citizens of Europe, just like anywhere. Filtered through the lens of social media and the Muslim imagination, the situation may look dire, but the same is true of the US, Turkey, Pakistan and beyond.

We all need a place to call home. Europe is our home. I’m not sure that exit strategies are helpful at this juncture.

Thoughtless advice

Come on dear celebrity community leader, think about your words! Yes, of course what really matters is our relationship with our Lord. Yes, of course we are not defined by qualifications and what we own.

But the generations of dropouts, layabouts and underachievers desperately need their spiritual guides to tell them that their GCSEs, A-Levels, Degrees, Post-Docs and — God Willing — secure employment at the end, can be acts of worship, if they enable the young man or woman to better serve others, whether friend or foe, family or stranger.

Our leaders should help us to aspire to the best in all realms, not just in the narrowly defined realm of spirituality. Perhaps that bright young graduate on obtaining a well paid job will give his wealth to the poor. Perhaps that successful surgeon will save lives. And perhaps the one who spends day and night in prayer, but cannot serve others, will gain nothing from his efforts but the benefits of aerobic exercise.

Our leaders need to do better than this. And they should be challenged when they offer thoughtless advice of this kind, however good their intentions.

3 March

On this day, every year without fail, in commemoration of the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate, a curious quotation misattributed to then Foreign Secretary George Curzon is regurgitated all over social media by people who should, by now, know better:

“The situation now is that the Islamic Caliphate in Turkey is dead and will never rise again, because we have destroyed its moral strength, the Caliphate and Islam. We must put an end to anything which brings about any Islamic unity between the sons of the Muslims. As we have already succeeded in finishing off the Caliphate, so we must ensure that there will never arise again unity for the Muslims, whether it be intellectual or cultural unity.”

Though it was established long ago that there is no evidence the Foreign Secretary ever uttered these words either in the House of Commons or elsewhere, it has passed into folklore and has become fact, and no amount of appeals to the sciences of verification can do anything about it. When words become a weapon in the armoury of keen activists, truth becomes irrelevant. They may be legends, but at least they are our legends. In politics, fact and fiction are inextricably mixed, and ends justify means. Truth has no place in these battles of ours.

In isolation

For years I have lamented and bemoaned being cut off by language from the life of the mosque. But now, as I learn of the sectarian polemics, tribalism and grotesque conflict which bubbles away under the surface, I am grateful to have been so cut off. What great mercies, despite appearances at the time!

Advertising

I fear that in the not too distant future we will miss our consumerist utopia, lamenting the loss of our febrile freedom to live as we please. Demagogues, despots and the pious disciples of tradition all seem united in the belief that a great war of epic proportions will somehow be the harbinger of our spiritual revival.

So enjoy the promotion of the mundane while you can, I say. Better to be defined by the stuff you owned and the numbing insignificance of your life, than by a hideous slaughter brought about by a people who needed a purpose and place. It is the advertising which sells us fascism as the antidote to our insignificance which we should truly fear.

Be insignificant. It’s better for us all.

New consensus

What we so-called leftie pc liberals recognised in the heady years after the fall of communism and apartheid was that all of humanity has the right to dignity and self-determination; that it is not nice to invade other people’s lands and then characterise the people as terrorists when they rise up against you.
 
For a brief spell we allowed ourselves to acknowledge that great wrongs had been done by our predecessors in bombarding and gassing local tribes from the biplanes across the Middle East and Africa, whom we characterised as mad, uncivilised primitives, resisting the invaders for no other reason than puerile fanaticism.
 
For a few brief years, there seemed to be a consensus that native peoples had a right to resist colonialism; that all nations deserved to be free.
 
But now we are told that we were all wrong. That might is right. That indigenous people no longer have the right to seek self-determination. That all that is wrong with the world is because we have been too weak, that we have not been assertive enough, that we have been too servile in demonstrating to the world that our way is the best. That we are a superior people, who by right should rule the world.
 
And so now all the talk is of taking the fight to all who stand in our way. To resist the resistance. To reassert our dominance and the rightness of our way of life for all, by whatever means possible. The new consensus seeks to remake the world in the image of the worst of us.
 
And the so-called leftie pc liberal is once more the enemy within, with his rancid platitudes about equality and compassion. He is the anti-patriot and an evil to be vanquished. He is all turn-the-other-cheek, peace and love, and naively internationalist.
 
He must be crushed first, and then the world.