No room at the Inn

Open your eyes. Illegal attempts to enter UK are on the rise because civil unrest is on the rise. Turkey is hosting 1.7 million Syrian refugees; Lebanon is hosting 1.3 million. The UK is legally hosting 100.

Made in China

I guess the £15 wireless mouse and keyboard combo I just bought was made by slaves in China. Awkward realisation. But there was no way I was going to pay £110 for the proper keyboard (which was probably also made by slaves in China, but sold at a massive mark up). Yes, I want it all cheap. Yes, I am compromised. Life in the twenty-first century.

Ransom Note

Appeal asking you to donate by SMS? Might be better to donate online. When you donate by SMS, you get a follow up call from a “professional fundraising company” who will do everything possible to convince you to set up a standing order (because that’s how they get paid).

I understand that charities have to do whatever it takes in difficult times, but my wife said my face had turned purple by the time I’d finished on the phone with them.

My guess is that the SMS is not so much about making donations easy, as getting a foot in the door. Next time I won’t make the same mistake.

But the fundraising professionals are not alone. A lot of charities now follow up donations with a plea for more, even when you’ve given all that you can afford, in some strange belief that you’re not doing enough.

Of course I know the situation on the ground… that’s why I donated in the first place… please don’t emotionally blackmail me…

Honestly, it all leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Today’s charities need a lesson in manners, if not ethics.

The Insanely Rich

Look, if I had as much money as you two Irish rockers, I probably wouldn’t release a Christmas single to raise some cash for charity right now.

How much money do you two actually need to live on? Most of us families of four get by on about £1500 a month.

Oh insanely rich superstar, I’m absolutely positive the Disasters Emergency Committee would gladly accept a nice discrete £500m donation (still leaves you £400m to tide you over for your retirement).

Oh poor hater of Mondays, surely you can spare a paltry £50m to build a few well equipped hospitals (you’ll still have £100m left over).

And maybe save the rest of us from your sneering appeals. We’re already doing what we can.

Gratitude for our age

I don’t like to get emotional about an inanimate object, but sometimes you do just have to express your wonderment at advances in technology. Continue reading “Gratitude for our age”

Good people

What we really need is balance. If all the good people withdraw, fearing harm or evil, the voices of negativity and hatred will only be amplified and all the more pervasive. Good people need to make themselves heard, felt and known.

Ode to my shoes

My dear noble friends, my humble servants, my trusty companions: alas, the time has come to part ways.

We have been through thick and thin together, through rainstorm, snow and searing heat, on hillside and lowland, on soft verge and hard road. You have served me well.

Two years ago I might have had cause to fling you in the bin, but I am a fool for comfort and fondness. Though water soaked my socks in a downpour, I could not let you go. Though I felt pavement instead of sole beneath my foot, I shunned all talk of the shoe shop. O, what comfort didst thou provide!

But alas, alas, the time has come to part ways. A new pair awaits me in the hall. But, lo, perhaps we will walk together in the garden yet.

Are any of these claims true?

A friend posts conspiratorial claims on the Internet. I am surprised, because he is a student of knowledge who knows all about the importance of verification in our deen. So I ask, “Are any of these claims true?” A friendly exchange follows, for we each have a different take on these matters. Perhaps we just have to agree to disagree.

But, alas, my disputations are not appreciated. Somehow I must be convinced, even if it means sharing an article from a website which is as much devoted to aliens and UFOs as to the political machinations of the State. A faked photograph showing video fakery will surely convince me that the latest conspiracy theory is absolutely watertight and true.

Convincing? No, not really. I’m a dab hand at Photoshop myself and could mockup pretty much the same image in about half an hour by raiding a Google Image Search. True, the photo was just an illustration, chosen to complement an article: but a bad start in the mission to convince.

Now, look, I’m as partial to conspiracy theories as the next man. The Running Man and Enemy of the State are two of my favourite films. I am quite happy to believe that nations whose economies rely on weapons sales and access to oil use underhand techniques to help pave the way for war. Tony Blair, George Bush, WMDs, cough. This doesn’t mean I have to accept every claim I read on Facebook, however, just because it fits with a narrative I wish to believe and hold to.

This is why I will go on challenging spurious, unverified and curious claims whenever and wherever I encounter them. Why? Because we are charged with being a people of truth, and therefore we need to be certain that every piece of information we pass on is true. If there’s doubt, I tell myself, leave it out.

Shouldn’t those six short words be our minimum starting point, every single time?

Private faith

Is it really deception to keep one’s faith to oneself? I get the impression that some people I know are moderate evangelicals, but they’ve never actually said so. Generally speaking, we’re not a people who goes for show; we like a quiet, private faith. Displays of overt religiosity tend to send people running for cover. So why respond in horror, reeling at the revelations of the rumour mill? If you thought I was a decent human being before this news reached you, can you not find it in your heart to suppose that I may still be one? And if not, does that not suggest there was some wisdom in my keeping my faith to myself? If, every time it becomes known, I must fall out of favour, what choice do I have but to put up the wall of privacy? It is a self-defence mechanism, not a fifth column.

A Mirror

As a people, we suffer from serious amnesia and as a result make these crass statements based on the news of the day.

We forget that 70 million people were killed over six years during World War II, of whom around 60% were civilians. We forget that the twentieth century saw 160 million people killed in war.

We would rather ignore the estimated 40,000 in Afghanistan and 160,000 in Iraq who were killed as a result of two US-led invasions.

Already we have forgotten the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Camp Whitehorse, Qaim and Samarra. If what happened a decade ago can be forgotten so easily, what hope do we have to recall the older crimes and abuses which litter our own history, stretching back over the past century alone?

Muslims, Muslim leaders and religious authorities have consistently condemned violent extremism for years and years.

We can’t place all the blame on the Press for not reporting this: the Guardian, Independent, Times, Daily Mail and BBC have all published articles on condemnation of ISIS by Muslim leaders and imams.

At some point, do we not have to acknowledge that we filter the news we read through our own prejudices and beliefs? If we do not want to hear of a fatwa condemning terrorism, we will not hear. If we do not want to hear of the work of peace keepers and aid workers, we will not hear.

If we only want to see darkness in the world, then that’s what we will find. The world is a mirror.

Gateways to the soul

Our senses, notably our eyes and ears, are gateways to our hearts.

In an interview, recorded just hours before his execution in 1989, serial killer Ted Bundy, spokes of the pervasive influence exposure to extreme, violent pornography had on him. While not abdicating responsibility for his actions, he nevertheless acknowledged the power of an addictive force. It is an incredibly important observation for our times, for what is being said here applies not just to this type of extreme media, but to numerous other influences from the benign to the dangerous.

On the benign end we have shiny gadget syndrome, Technolust and obsessive devotion to a football team. Each become all-consuming because we choose to expose ourselves to images, words and sounds which reach into us.

But as to the dangerous: I have absolutely no doubt about the internal processes that occur in those who expose themselves to the gratuitous violence of warfare. The shock of a solitary photo on Facebook depicting horrific destruction in Gaza, followed by the stream of ever more extreme imagery, gradually, stage by stage, transform the viewer’s heart.

Responses are not uniform. The natural reaction of some will be to avenge for the wronged, to send aid to the oppressed or even to fight on their behalf.

But others, who expose themselves to the actions of other avengers, may be to perpetuate such horrors themselves. If you expose yourself to the actions of the supposed liberators, as they execute their prisoners and meet out punishment on those who oppose them, will a time not come in some, when a line is crossed, somewhere deep within?

This is an extreme example, but we are living in extreme times. We have witnessed once sensible, polite, kind individuals suddenly thrust upon us in the newspapers as terrible supporters of barbarity.

It is crucial that we recall the wisdom of Lower Your Gaze in a time of all-pervasive imagery.

Nobody in 1989, could have imagined the world as it is today, with such extreme imagery on tap. The days of debates about the effect of the video tape, satellite TV and the arcade game are long gone. All of that seems tame now — although it wasn’t of course. We have just lost touch with reality.

A Guiding Helper for today

It has become apparent to me for a couple of years now that there is a real and urgent need for a fiqh and adab guide to navigating the Internet, particularly for the Internet generation.

I am alarmed by online discourse surrounding the ISIS phenomenon, as well as other issues. I am not sure that the upcoming generation is equipped to negotiate the competing truths presented to them on social media, with all its graphic imagery and persuasive argumentation.

We need to present faith-based guidance to the upcoming generation which addresses the contemporary context — the ever-present news feed on a slab of glass in every pocket, the demands of constant immediacy, unimpaired access to horrific scenes of conflict and brutality, the rise of anonymous influence and typing thumbs the new tongue.

I need to start fleshing these ideas out, somehow, inshallah. We really need a Guiding Helper for today; a Book of Assistance for the age of the internet. Who will help me make it happen?

20-year rule

It will be another 20 years before we know what’s really happening today, but by then nobody will care; it will all be ancient history. By then we will be engaged in new conflicts, more terrifying than ever before, and our leaders will be telling us once more, “We have learnt the lessons of the past. Standards were different back then. We would never play unethical games like that in this day of age.” And we, the gullible, will believe them.

Flag day

Is it possible for us to support the needy today without being entertained? The best charity, we believe, is that given in secret. And yet my news feed brims each day with a multitude of activities and events designed to encourage me to give publicly to all kinds of worthy causes — and they are all worthy causes — under the assumption that adequate funds cannot be generated by beneficent giving alone. So we must be invited to bazaars, jumble sales, three course dinners and concerts. We must sponsor our friends for climbing a mountain, riding a bike, jumping out of a plane or flying across the globe for the adventure of a lifetime. Even our children come home from school laden with sponsorship forms. Perhaps it is the only way. Perhaps we must be compelled to give more than we would ordinarily give, because the needs of the needy are simply just too great. Perhaps. One thing is certain: all this entertainment is depriving us of the blessing of charity done in secret.

Black Flags

Today we must protest the misrepresentation of Muslim flags. That white Arabic script on a black background is merely our testimony of faith, cry the wronged. That white circle inscribed with calligraphy is merely the seal of the Prophet, peace be upon him. This is simply the flag of the early Muslims, whimper believers, feeling under attack once more.

But is any of this really true? As I understood it, the first flags used by the Muslim community under the leadership of the Prophet, peace be upon him, were a plain black standard and a plain white banner. The black flag with the shahada on it seems to be based on the green Saudi flag, which is less than a century old.

If we’re honest, in recent times, the black flag with the shahada on it has always been associated with political movements such as Hizb-ut Tahir and Muhajirun. Current reactions to the flag popping up in peaceful communities are hardly surprising then.

There is nothing sinister about words of faith printed on a piece of fabric, but everything has a context and connotations. If the so-called Islamic State had instead chosen $ as its logotype, perhaps we would be having another discussion. But they didn’t and we’re not.

Once more we run headlong into an emotional defence, forgetting to ponder history, ancient and modern, to appreciate the perceptions of others, not just our own.

Ask those who came before you

Every generation sees signs that they’re living in extraordinary times. If only those that come after would ask those that came before. Keep on planting seeds; don’t slash and burn your crops.

Parody of righteousness

Why do those who commit enormities occupy themselves with the trivial faults of others? In their ravaging rampage, spilling the blood of innocents without pause, they have become a parody of righteousness. We must invest more in Mental Health care.

Salesmen

Now that they have received written confirmation from Asda that it does not have a policy of barring entry to customers wearing their t-shirts, perhaps it’s time the t-shirt company updated the article on their website which first highlighted the alleged incident, rather than leaving this information buried in the comments thread.

As for the social media fire they’ve sparked: no idea how they’ll put that out. What a vast amount of timber can be set alight by the tiniest spark.