The Propagandist

In one breath you dismiss the faith of millions of your brothers, writing them off as sell-outs, apostates and hypocrites, while in the next you agitate on behalf of millions of others, unknown. Here are the contradictions of the Muslim propagandist. A brutal oppression is raging out there, elsewhere, in distant lands, and it is the duty of every believer to respond. Yet in times of peace, those same oppressed would stand repudiated by your tongue, their faith undermined, their words and deeds attacked. Yours is a call to action which demands no questions be asked. Your propaganda paints a compelling portrait, edited, refined and contorted: Muslims alone are victims, persecuted around the world, relentlessly. But about Muslims killed by Muslims of a certain kind, you are silent. Of those maimed and cut to pieces by a bomb in a marketplace, you have nothing to say. About Christians killed by Muslims, Christians killed by Christians, Hindu-Buddhist rivalries, ethnic conflict, drug wars, persecution of other minorities… not a word. There is no room for acknowledgement of the suffering of others in the propagandist’s toolkit. We must be moved, by whatever means possible. Yours is a humanitarian mission that demands that nobody asks, “Where is your compassion for your neighbour and brother near at hand?”

Taking a side

I have read Tony Blair’s Bloomberg speech in full, long winded though it was. It contains some truths, and some realities for Western interests.

I don’t know anybody who would deny that Muslim extremists are a threat to many communities around the globe; other Muslims are as much victims of their words and actions as non-Muslims. Yet history attests that these groups have always been there; it is just that modern communication media has amplified their reach.

Blair touches on certain truths, but he also glosses over other unfortunate inconvenient ones. The elephant in the room, of course, is his intervention in Iraq, which in no small part accelerated the religious sectarian anarchy he now laments.

Saddam Hussein’s loathed Arab Socialist Ba’ath regime was brutally effective in rooting out so-called ‘Islamist’ groups. Blair’s defence of the military recoup in Egypt today is no different from the Reagan administration’s relationship with Saddam Hussain in the 1980s: this is just realpolitik. Muammar Gaddafi was good for Libya, it now transpires, as Blair tells us that the democratic experiment has well and truly failed.

People are dismissive of Blair’s warnings and advice for sound reasons. It is not that he is a harbinger of ideas that nobody wants to hear. It is because he himself — personally — has played an active role in the region’s unrest.

Islam is indeed an important factor in the region, but so too are those unbelievably straight lines redrawn on the map by European powers at the end of each World War. Faith and visions of religious utopia play an important role in people’s lives, but so too do the malevolent excesses of Secret Police acting on behalf of undemocratic governments.

Who would blame anyone for seeking an ideal — suspect though it may seem to literate minds — when reality has proved so hideous? What serves Western interests is not necessarily good for the lived real lives of individuals and their families.

Blair tries to concede that other factors come into play early on in his speech, but he goes on to brush them out of the way in pursuit of his overarching agenda. An agenda that quietly mixes up facts. None of the countries he mentions by name have been actively funding and proselytising that narrow minded and dangerous ideology he refers to. But key British allies, conveniently overlooked? Can a thesis about the Middle East which does not once mention Saudi Arabia be taken seriously?

Particularly when his closing remarks refer to the atrocities of 11 September 2001, an act of terrorism said to have been perpetuated not by Afghans or Iraqis, but by a group of Saudi men.

I suppose this is what he means by “taking a side and sticking with it.”

A tale of two videos

Whether we like it or not, Campaign Islam’s response to the now infamous Honest Policy video will resonate with many young people, unable to sift through propaganda which presents Muslims as permanent, exclusive victims. Most of us have mellowed with the passing years and have forgotten that the young are often attracted to those who appear to be straight talking.

The middle-aged amongst us watched a few frames and found our in-built Omar Bakri Alarms going off. Long gone are the days plastering lampposts with sticky labels promoting Islam as a way of life. Today, whatever our view of style and substance, theirs is a social media just as creative as any Channel 4 Short.

Such is the effect of our aversion to the HT / Al-Muhajirun circus of the 1990s, that we can no longer listen to those who sing from a different hymn sheet. Women in niqab should be silent, we announce, without the faintest trace of irony. Women moved by the desperate lot of others elsewhere should direct all their energies in that direction, and leave the rest of us alone to enjoy our skinny lattes.

20 years ago, I was one of those annoying youth banging on about hideous slaughter in our midst: in my case it was genocide in Rwanda. I was found pinning up posters around my college, begging people to take notice and do “something”. But we were the Brit-pop generation — the Boo Radleys were singing, Wake Up Boo! — and few of us really cared about the world beyond our Walkman mix tape.

In truth, this debate is replayed in every generation between the gloriously entertained and the boringly serious. CND would march while Punk rocked. Bosnia burned as Blur and Oasis battled for another nation’s heart. The chasm between today’s Mipsters revelling in Islampop and their angry campaigning counterparts is hardly peculiar. Of course there is crossover: thousands have been moved to support the people of war-torn Syria whilst listening to Adam Saif perform live in concert. But that has always been the case too, from Band Aid in 1984 to U2’s Sarajevo Tour.

When we were young, we tended to think that only our way was right. Sometimes it is tiresome to encounter those who still believe that, but surely we are old enough now to accommodate competing voices, however much we may find ourselves disagreeing with both.

Inverted Beauty

Who convinced these people to embrace the hideousification of the face? Why uglify yourself that way? Grateful to have preceded Generation Mipster; we were blessed with the natural elegance of an unassuming modest beauty. The grotesque, gargantuan inventions of today’s fashionistas are like comic turn. Clowns revelling in an identity without its core.

Taksim Square

Two weeks ago the big news was that Turkey had paid off its IMF debt and had pledged a $5 billion loan to the IMF to help alleviate the European debt crisis. Turkey seemed to have an air of confidence. And yet today the Prime Minister, democratically elected with 49.83% of the Popular Vote in 2011, is presented as an autocratic dictator. Is this the real mood of the nation, or outside provocation?

Riotous Nafs

In this month of clemency, our Lord sent us a mercy in the form of a man who refused to fly into an unholy rage when his son was torn away from him in the midst of the anarchic disintegration that had seized a nation in the preceding hours. He has become an example for a nation; a light. Commentators on the Left and Right have hailed his humble, understated words as the voice of reason in a sea of chaos. He has been an embodiment of this holy month.

Every year in the weeks before Ramadan, strange thoughts flutter into my mind, planting a seed whose roots push far enough down into my heart that it will begin to sprout just as the fasting month begins. As my pious brethren set about welcoming the month of mercy, this soul heeds another call. It has long been clear that while the transgressions of the tongue derive from the whispers of the cursed one, these indiscretions come from within; from the soul of the self.

And so, even as I abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk, the riotous nafs come into bloom. Each year the ailment is the same, provoking the same reaction, the same visions, the same plots and plans, sometimes at the beginning, sometimes at its end. This year: in the first then days, when sensible believers are found seeking the Mercy of their Lord. Instead of imploring my Creator to forgive and guide me, I was found harbouring an argument within: between the soul that cherishes righteousness and the soul that prefers rebellion. The first was weak and feeble, petitioning unconvincingly of an imminent end; the second was brazen, unheeding and arrogant. In the conversations within, it was the seditious soul that appeared to be on the ascendency.

We might find that these long summer fasts in the northern hemisphere are a great mercy, though they may not seem that way as our stomachs growl and shrink, as our frames become skeletal, as our eyes droop with sleep. For where the long nights of the winter fasts provide broad avenues for feasting and misdemeanour, these long days and short nights seem to curtail the conspiracies of the mutinous soul. As the sun sets there is no return to normality, no recuperation for the dissenter within; there is time for food and then comes that heavy fatigue, from which there is apparently no escape.

A week ago there arose strange contrivances, demanding strategies for the weeks that will follow this blessed month, when we will believe ourselves free from the restraints that impose self-discipline upon us now. But suddenly — whether due to the du’a of a friend or stranger or to the exhaustion that accompanies us as the month wears on — those erroneous designs have left me. Now that brazen soul has become feeble, whispering when it can for a return to its plots and plans, but even it is unconvinced. The righteous soul is still nowhere to be found, resigning to the intervention of this weary hunger instead.

My pious brethren strive in this month; they stand their nights in prayer and whenever their nafs petition them to act upon their lowest calls, they turn their backs and pray some more. This soul can only look on in awe, for it is tiredness that restrains it now; not piety, not righteousness, not religious purity. This is a soul that would sin through a month of immense mercy, were it not for the constrictions of a summer fast.

Mine are riotous nafs, which would tear down all that is good for short term gains, of little worth or value. I have not been wronged, I remind myself, but I wrong myself. And England lost its senses last week, not for the call of the devil, for the devils are chained in Ramadan, but for the calls of a nation’s nafs. It took one man — a mercy from above — to remind us of a higher calling, of a better way. He was Ramadan incarnate, the word made flesh. For the Muslim, it takes these long thirsty days, these parched throats, this heavy sleep, the aches and pains — all of this — to burn away our unholy desires, to overcome our riotous nafs.

Who am I?

Who am I to pass judgement on the despair of the youngster who has only known this war, waged in his land since he was only four? Who am I to pass judgement on the man who lived and died dishonourably in East Harlem, who was eradicated in an instant in a hail of bullets splattered from beyond the blacked out windows of a Cadillac SUV? Who am I to pass judgement on a man who flew into a rage when his neighbour’s home was demolished by a Hellfire missile launched from a Predator drone? Who am I to pronounce and convict, to chastise and deconstruct? Who am I to judge, when all I have ever know is ease?

The fat prince

I confess that for most of the past decade I was convinced that the so-called Smoking Gun video purportedly showing Osama bin Laden describing the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 was a fake. I believed it to be a lazy contrivance thrown together to convince a gullible public of the rightness of a wrong war. I came to refer to it as ‘the video featuring a fat bin Laden’ — for, from the moment I first saw the video broadcast on Channel 4 news one weekday evening, I just knew that the portly figure with that broad, flat nose bore no likeness to the tall, thin Arab we had been accustomed to seeing on our television screens over the preceding weeks.

I am no longer convinced, however. In the past months, and for the first time in almost a decade, I have purchased a television licence (overseas readers may be surprised to learn that the British require a licence to watch live TV, but there we are). The act was brought on not so much for my benefit, but for that of my mother-in-law visiting from Turkey who requires a daily dose of ana haber and melodramatic, violin-backed dramas (British readers may be surprised to learn that we are required to have a licence to watch live TV broadcast anywhere in the world, but can watch the BBC iPlayer to our hearts’ content so long as it’s the catch-up service. But there we are). I will admit that I grew tired of trying to circumvent the TV licence by searching daily for non-live news broadcasts — a snippet here on YouTube, a summary there on the BBC website. In the end, the live broadcast was the way to go.

So now we have a TV. Er, well, no. We have a cheap netbook plugged into a cheap wide-screen monitor. We are not, honestly, all that fussed, although my mother-in-law does puzzle why we don’t just have a normal box with a normal remote like normal people. I would point out that we are not in Turkey, so she wouldn’t receive Turkish terrestrial broadcasts on our normal TV if we were normal people. And before you ask, no I’m not going to erect a massive satellite dish in my back garden for the convenience of having a normal television like normal people. I have an Internet connection, a cheap netbook and a cheap wide-screen monitor, and I find the stuttering and rebuffing altogether quite charming.

So to fat bin Ladens. I probably shouldn’t have watched the Royal Wedding, but I did. We had guests over who brought Union Jacks and declared a special interest; his cousin was (presumably still is) dating the bride’s sister. Hurrah. And of course I wanted to give my mother-in-law a cultural experience to take back home. Royal Weddings, Royal carriages, Royal mini-buses, Union Jacks and Jammy Dodgers were just the thing. So altogether we gathered around our cheap wide-screen monitor, precariously balancing miniature cups of Turkish coffee just within range of the enthusiastic flag waving of two toddlers and a four year old, to await the entrance of Rowen Williams and his guests. And there he came: not the Archbishop, but the fat prince. No, not the groom, but his best man, Prince Harry. He had shoulders like an American Footballer, a short, squat body, and a tiny orange head.

I configured the screen resolution correctly on the monitor when we first got it, but I have long since given up maintaining it. Every time the netbook comes out of the cupboard for a video call to Turkey, something goes awry. So now we just watch squashed TV on that plasticy 23 inch monitor at the netbook’s native resolution. As I said, we’re not fussed. To be honest, I just thought Huw Edwards’ and Gavin Esler’s chubby faces were the result of middle-age spread. It was the arrival of the fat prince that reminded me that our television viewing experience is far from optimal. If only we had a normal box with a normal remote like normal people.

If you had seen Prince Harry that glorious Jummah, you too would certainly have come to believe that the fat bin Laden was in fact Osama bin Laden. It is not inconceivable that the video in question has simply been squashed in transmission. Indeed, when the latest videos were broadcast following the reported death of Osama bin Laden last week, we even witnessed the frame switching from normal proportions to a slightly squashed wide-screen aspect in unedited form (or was it the other way round?).

Which brings me to the other fat prince: Alex Jones. Within days of the latest videos being broadcast, he was declaring that the latest videos were fake. ‘Fake, fake, fake, fake, fake,’ as the person who brought it to my attention put it, when he posted his video. It didn’t even look like Osama bin Laden, he declared, showing us photos of how he looked a decade ago. Possibly true, but then I don’t even look like Timothy Bowes, if you look at the head-shot in my passport from a decade ago. That character with the gaunt, pale face looks like your typical EDL member to me. It’s amazing what a decade of good home-cooked Turkish tucker can do the general flabbiness of a man’s body. Plus I smile a bit more nowadays. Ah no, but it is clearly a cartoon character, a computer animation. Well possibly. I must admit, his mouth did look weird to me, but then you should see Fiona Bruce on a misconfigured wide-screen monitor.

Well it’s all possible, of course. But I have another theory. Could it be that Alex Jones is a figment of his own imagination? The thing that got me thinking about this was, well, his existence. If the United States of America has become — or is fast becoming — a Police State as he perpetually claims, how is it that the Police State Apparatus hasn’t taken him out? Surely he would have fallen down the stairs by now, been run over by a tram or had his website flushed down the loo, speaking as he does of the truth about the evil-doers. But maybe I just don’t understand how the Secret Police work. Ah, but you’ve got me. This isn’t a new thought at all; I first thought this thought a couple of years ago when he uncovered the top-secret goings on of the top-secret and highly secretive Bilderberg Group during their Annual General Meeting. That’s the trouble with Secret Societies these days: we know all about them. Lest we forget Vigil. Codswollop, is what I thought.

I’m sure I probably mentioned before that my grandfather (or was it his grandfather, or my great-grandfather’s son?) was reportedly a member of the Free Masons, but apparently it was just like a social club. I have in mind that they played Dominoes on an evening, but I may be getting mixed up with a Jamaican barber shop. If they were hatching plans for world domination, RISK would have been a better choice of board game. But who knows? Perhaps it’s the Premium Masons we should be worried about.

Alas, alas. I set out this evening to write a serious article about a serious subject, but alas it has descended into farce. But perhaps farce is all that the subject deserves. When Muslims start referring you to Alex Jones as purveyor of the truth, you can only laugh or cry. What great analysis, what penetrating insight. Or not. Personally speaking, I still have great difficulty believing that the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 were the work of private individuals, but I wouldn’t dare tell you I know what really happened that fateful day. In God we trust. I have no knowledge of the unseen.

Mundane

Life is filled with trials and tests, but somehow we never recognise half of them in the mundane encounters of daily life. ‘Do you think you will be left to say, “We believe”, and will not be tested?’ we remind ourselves as calamities unfold on our television screens. Tornados rip a town to pieces, and we remember. Cruise missiles rain down on a city, and we remember. An earthquake flattens a province, and we remember. But in the disputes between friends, the argument between a husband and his wife, in the pay cut, the job loss, the crashing computer, the rain on a day out, the broken down car, the bill for repairs, the ungrateful response to a favour done, the guest out-staying his welcome and the slugs eating the seedlings in the garden; in all things that demand us to choose between flying into an unholy rage and resigning contentedly to the good in the bad, we forget, repeatedly.We expect the kind of trials we would never be able to bear, wandering on, oblivious to the perpetual assessment that is our life. How easy to decry from afar the deperate residents of a permanent refugee camp picking up the bomb and a gun in rage; how hard to sit down, lie down, repeat one’s wudu, to bite one’s tongue, to go for a walk, to simply say sorry, or never-mind, when dinner wasn’t ready or the tea was cold, when the children raised their voices and scattered toys across the floor, when she had a migraine and forgot your special appointment. How hard it is to face the tests of our lives. How hard. How hard to face the mundane.

 

Women and Children

As sections of the media and governments worldwide congratulate themselves for telling Israel off for shooting civilians on the Mavi Maramara earlier this week, I am struck by the absolute lack of outrage at that hideous by-product of America’s robotic assassinations: the incidental deaths of women and children.

In the course of the war on terror, we have slipped into the alternative fictional world of 2000AD in which Street Judges sentence and execute offenders instantly in their effort to enforce the law. We have lost all sense of moral proportion, shrugging off the actions of the squadron of MQ-9 Reaper “hunter-killer” drones as some kind of norm. Judge Dredd now sits at a computer terminal at a military base in Nevada, sending his robotic army wherever he wills. All the world is Megacity 1: Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq. In this alternative reality—now our tragic actuality—the world is his oyster. And we dumb clones.

How can it be that the deaths of wives, children and grandchildren are all considered an acceptable side effect of a policy of assassination? We no longer even talk of collateral damage: it is only necessary to mention that the target was an Al-Qaeda militant and anyone around him is suddenly non-human, whose death is inconsequential.

Some would point out that this is nothing beside the German blitz of British cities during World War Two, or in light of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is the death of a few children to the massacre of 50,000 civilians and the destruction of the entire city of Hamburg during one week in July in 1943? It is the way of war, is it not?

Not last time I checked. While it goes without saying that the targeting of civilians is absolutely prohibited in Islamic Law, with clear conditions laid down to avoid accidental civilian casualties, the Geneva Convention also makes plain the status of combatants and civilians on the battlefield.  Civilians may well have borne the brunt of military action over the past century, but under humanitarian law they are supposed to be protected people.

It is claimed that a man said to be a leading militant in Al-Qaeda—that great spectre of the war on terror—was killed last week by a missile fired from a robotic drone in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, near the town of Miran Shah. Nobody advocates capturing those charged with terrorism or rebellion and bringing them to trial, for this is war; indeed to even make such a suggestion is to admit some sort of sympathy for the worst of the worst.

Dare we speak up for those killed alongside him though? For it is claimed that his wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were also killed in the missile strike. They were collateral damage? They were guilty by association? Or is this a new post-patriarchal age when we dare not speak of women and children for fear of patronising the victims of war? Must we remain silent in reverence to the new wisdom of our age?

If not now, when will we awake? Last July, the US Air Force released a report entitled, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” in which it proposes a drone that could fly over a target and then make the decision whether or not to launch an attack, all without human intervention. The drones are not going away, nor the so-called war on terror.

So I see those crocodile tears for Israel’s actions this week are already dry, for if the nations truly cared then, surely they would condemn these other breaches of international humanitarian law too. Isn’t it this the death of civilisation?