Old maps

It’s true that on old maps published a hundred years ago, there is no Israel, only Palestine. But then there’s no Pakistan, either. Another colonial misadventure that displaced 15 million people and left up to 2 million dead, spawning conflict and distrust that lasts to this day. Old maps can tell us lots, but you have to be prepared to examine them with open eyes. Often they bear witness against us.

Populist causes

These days I find myself puzzled by so many issues which animate my brethren. The truth is, I am too much detached from the populist causes which many raised in a Muslim culture imbibe as essentially religious matters. To me, such issues are often overwhelmingly political — and the legacy of the politics of past empires at that. Caliphs in the dim and distant past legitimised political decisions by coopting the sanctity of region, and so here we are hundreds of years later championing the same cause as a measure of piety and belief.

Most of us don’t have any inkling of Muslim history further back than the European colonial period, except for a very whitewashed version of it. If we adopted the same moral stance that we take towards our enemies today, we would condemn most of the actions of the Muslim imperial forces of old. If we had to adopt the same moral stance, might we have to reconsider the actions of our own conquerors, whom we conveniently call “liberators”? At some point would we need to reconsider the 9th century dogma that makes our position exactly the same as the enemy we decry?

How is it that when our people transgress boundaries, we pass over it, whereas when our enemy does the same thing, we are suddenly animated in the cause of law, justice and morality? Isn’t it simply about whose side you are on? We champion what is sacred to us, just as our enemies do. We may have the moral high ground today, but it is built of the shaky foundations of the past — and who dares reexamine such foundations, when popularism has transmogrified politics into deeply held faith?


Peoples have been fighting over this city for 4000 years. From Canaanites to Egyptians to the Jewish people to Assyrians and Babylonians, from Persians to Romans to Arabs, and Turks, and Europeans. Empires have claimed it theirs for millennia, its inhabitants sometimes granted peace and security, and sometimes subjugated, exiled or put to death. Continue reading “Jerusalem”

Lamentations of the heart

May God forgive me for what is in my heart; for entertaining suspicions and doubts, negativity and assumptions. God knows that I feel bad that my heart harbours ambiguity about the innocence of a man well respected and admired.

Many of my friends frequently recommend his writing and laud his insight. Other friends know him personally and have spent quality time in his company. I once gave him a lift in my old banger and thought him a decent chap. When I listen to his speech, I think to myself, “This is a good man.” When I read what he has written, I think to myself, “He is wise and true.”

For those reasons, and many others, I have every reason to think the best of him, and to dismiss the allegations made against him as preposterous inventions, borne of malicious intent. I ought to be of those in the “benefit of doubt” or “innocent until proven guilty” camp.

Continue reading “Lamentations of the heart”

Not my place

Here in my ivory tower, it’s true: Islamohobia is one of those words I flee from. To me, it is like the term Anti-Semitism, which particularises racism, when there appears to be no real need to. Of course one can argue that both Muslims and Jews are not necessarily targeted because of their ethnic backgrounds, but simply for their adherence to a particular faith. But then that argument could be made for vast swathes of humanity, for whom we have not adopted a designation to describe particularised hatred. But we are where we are, and these labels are here to stay.

Continue reading “Not my place”

Due process

It is quite normal that, despite the presumption of innocence, a person under investigation can be considered potentially dangerous and preventive measures are thus put in place.

That is why school teachers who have had allegations made against them are normally suspended, even though those allegations may be totally unfounded and even vindictive.

They may well be exonerated at a later date, but it would be extraordinary for an institution to allow them to remain in post — or to speak in public — during an investigation into serious misconduct.

We shouldn’t allow our personal biases and attachments to cause us to treat cases involving those we respect and admire any differently, if we truly care about the protection of vulnerable people, as we claim we do.

Identity politics

It is a pity that Muslims have been coopted into supporting the hyper-capitalist and ecologically destructive agendas of Muslim governments, while leftist atheists, with their inherent anti-establishmentarianism, stand in defence of the environment and the poor.

A heavy weight

Every night when I head to bed, a voice within says, “Be quiet.” Speak good or remain silent. Restrain your tongue and typing fingers. As I lay my head on my pillow, these inner thoughts recur: “Disappear. Withdraw.” And each morning when I arise, I ask myself whether today will be the day when I respond to the inner petition: will I find the courage to vanish; to keep my thoughts to myself; to be like the commoners of old who had no reach or influence beyond their village or family.

But then the day wears on, and another voice says, “Express yourself. Speak good. Say what needs to be said.” And once more I am hammering on the keyboard, convinced for a moment that my words are important. That my words must be freed. And for a while it seems to be so. But by nightfall, that inner voice will return, petitioning me to withdraw. To free myself of these burdens. To become the nobody who walks unknown, influencing only his family and close companions.

Day and night, it has become a heavy weight on me, rending me in two.