Strive for peace

It is a despicable, barbaric and heinous crime to attack worshippers in their places of worship on any day, let alone on their holy days. Those that massacre worshippers — Muslim, Christian or any other — ripping them to shreds with high explosives, stand against the very book they claim to profess. Continue reading “Strive for peace”

Don’t choose

It is becoming every more apparent that the little people are being forced to choose sides in the clash between the two behemoths of Ikhwan ul Muslimeen and Salafiyah. To side with Turkey and Qatar, or UAE and Saudi. To believe in the gospel according to Al Jazeerah or the last testament of Al Arabiya. To side with one group of scholars against another. To filter our affairs through the prism of one or the other. Many an activist has already chosen their side, and we are supposed to follow suit. Dare we say that these are not our battles?

These amalgamations

I am one of those exceedingly annoying people who, when presented with a collection of photos (especially concerning an incendiary issue), insists on running them through a reverse image search to check that they really are what the person posting them claims them to be. It may be an obsessive compulsive disorder, or it may be a concern about the truth: I’m not even sure myself. Continue reading “These amalgamations”

Declaration of Peaceful Intent

A reader draws my attention to a video in which the Australian activist, Harry Richardson, challenges a Muslim community leader to adopt his Declaration of Peaceful Intent, which is to state that he renounces the Quran’s violent commands as not applicable to today: Continue reading “Declaration of Peaceful Intent”

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 religion, 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?

Jerusalem

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”

Imperial Archives

On numerous Muslim news sites in Turkey and now on social media, the document below is being celebrated as evidence of a timeworn relationship of solidarity between the Turkish people and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. Continue reading “Imperial Archives”

Old Blighty

It would be wise to study Burmese history, particularly the period of British Colonial rule and World War II, rather than circulating articles about Rohingya fighting for the British during World War II and invoking it as a special relationship. Continue reading “Old Blighty”

The historian’s curse

Historians and students of politics will aways be cursed to take the long view, and not succumb to the passions and emotions of the moment, condemning them for eternity to the realm of the indifferent. Continue reading “The historian’s curse”

Moral arguments

It is occasionally worth recalling that the concept of “terror bombing” was not dreamed up in a cave in Afghanistan, but by a celebrated British statesman, who legitimised the mass killing of civilians as a means to defeat the enemy (37,000 in Hamburg and 25,000 in Dresden).

Collective amnesia forces us to wash our hands of these unpalatable truths, but painful introspection is necessary if we are to understand our modern afflictions. Terrorism and the targeting of civilians is always odious, and we should be able to condemn it in all its forms, not excuse and venerate some practitioners simply because they are or were on our side.

The moral argument does not work like that.

Witnesses

So once more our activists and scholars petition us, “Why are you silent? Why do you not speak out?”

And yes, it is true, we feel like renegades, as if indifferent to the suffering of afflicted innocents everywhere.

But the communal amnesia they demand of us won’t stick. We have been browbeaten by tragedy before, and driven by emotion to join the bold choruses demanding war.

And now the millions dead and nations in anarchic turmoil stand witness against us.

This fire

They demand that you speak up, say something, make your voice heard, as if everything is clearcut and obvious and true, and as though your voice would make a difference to the wronged, caught in the crossfire of conflict.

Perhaps the silent fear opening the door to another giant invasion from outside, sold as a humanitarian intervention like Iraq and Libya. Continue reading “This fire”

Sacrifice

If only all those bright but naive young students persuaded by pious propaganda to sacrifice their lives for an unholy cause could have been persuaded instead to complete their medical degrees and to dedicate their lives to the service of others.

Be witnesses to truth

When conversation runs dry in a meeting with a stranger or long-lost friend, one question inevitably follows: “Did you watch the football?” or “What team do you support?” Continue reading “Be witnesses to truth”

To be just

If you’re a humanitarian aid organisations claiming to be unbiased, non-partisan and apolitical, your social media feed really should reflect it. I understand that emotions are running high, as we’re moved by the intense suffering of innocents — but aid organisations claiming to support all humanity irregardless of their beliefs should be scrupulous in maintaining that stance.

In Syria there are thousands of innocent victims across all ethnic and sectarian divides. There are civilians held under siege in both rebel and pro-government towns and villages. Militants on all sides have committed atrocities, holding civilians hostage, forcibly conscripting fighters, killing their opponents and causing a mass exodus of people into neighbouring states.

No doubt someone has to apportion blame and hold aggressors to account. But humanitarian organisations claiming to help all? If they are to discharge their obligations justly, their job is to support the vulnerable and needy, no matter who they are.

Chosen people

Quoting a contemporary of William Wallace and applying it to the present day would normally be considered plain odd. People would say, look, they were different battles in different times with different proponents — and even then his views were considered controversial. But, no, the words of sheikh ul-islam in his battle with Muslims declared apostates in medieval Syria are regurgitated daily and passed on as if a directive from revelation. For in the legends of today, the people of sham are a chosen people — though, of course, not the rulers of sham and their army. But the people, yes, and the foreigners who have flooded in from outside to support them. Though not the foreigners aiding the rulers. No, only the chosen people of the chosen people. And this is the madness that unfolds.

I don’t know

A decade ago we listened to former Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, recounting his story of how the politicians around George W. Bush Jr. in 2001 planned to destroy the governments in seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Continue reading “I don’t know”

Shock and awe

I don’t know what is happening on the ground. It is impossible for me to verify anything that is reported to me. I don’t know who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. I do not know if the narrative that has reached me is a representation of reality, or mere propaganda.

I have heard claims and counter-claims. I have read differing accounts of the same incidents. I have followed dubious and suspect social media feeds. I have seen footage of war, repurposed from a music video — and aid workers playing the mannequin challenge. And, yet the harrowing accounts of presumed-to-be honest aid workers and relief organisations too.

What is the truth? What is the reality on the ground? Are civilians being targeted by that awful regime, or are they being liberated from four-years held hostage by terrorist groups? Are civilians being targeted by the conquering rebel groups, or are the rebels the saviours of the people, defending them when no one else would?

I honestly have no idea. It is impossible to verify most of what I hear. Yes, the reverse image search is always there, enabling us to separate old news from new. Yes, here and there you can divine the truth. But by and large, there are just great big questions, exaggerated all the more by the media’s sudden concern for people it usually despises.

Truth is the first casualty of shock and awe. Sympathy for the victims, whoever they are, the second. Objectivity the third. Compassion the fourth. Somewhere in this list are lessons for us all.

Delivering aid

The British Government is providing £100million in aid to Yemen, whilst simultaneously selling £3.7billion of weapons and military support to Saudi Arabia, whose actions have been causing massive suffering and damage there since March 2015 (almost 4000 civilians killed and 130 health facilities hit).

All aid agencies are going to struggle to get aid to those who need it most; Médecins Sans Frontières hospitals have been hit by Saudi bombs several times now, but continue to work there. We must trust that organisations such as Oxfam, Unicef, the Red Cross and Islamic Relief that explicitly ask us to support their work in Yemen have the means to reach those in need.

Yet it does all seems tragically futile when our own government has such an intimate and compromising relationship with arms dealers, who help fuel conflicts like this in the first place.

The little people have their good intentions, as they spend of their wealth on the poor and the needy, but they have no influence. Only governments can decide how they will behave in the world: to take a moral stance, or just focus on economic growth, whatever it takes.

The schizophrenia of the times

My newsfeed reveals a schizophrenic attitude to faith and conflict. Today’s conflicts and violence are condemned absolutely, while the triumphant conquests of the past enjoy great eulogies, their reality whitewashed and distorted. We pine after a glorious past, oblivious to former transgressions, to doctrines of perennial war and imperial rules of engagement as cruel and unforgiving as the battles of any of the zealots of today.

Continue reading “The schizophrenia of the times”

Great games

Is Fethullah Gülen the head of a terrorist organisation? On outward appearances, I find that somewhat implausible. Followers of the Gülen movement are actively engaged in education, social welfare projects, humanitarian aid and interfaith dialogue all around the world. To the outside observer, they could only be an altruistic social movement; the idea of a malignant conspiratorial secret society seems preposterous. Continue reading “Great games”

In their shoes

I’m not an AKP groupie. The president’s style of leadership and temperament is not my cup of tea. The government deserves much credit for growing the economy, developing infrastructure and bringing about positive social change in Turkey, but uncritical fanatical followings help no one: there is the good and the bad.

Still, any objective person can see the that coverage of Turkey’s reaction to the coup attempt in our newspapers is far from balanced and fair. Compare coverage of France’s state of emergency instituted after the Paris terror attacks, to coverage of Turkey’s reaction after F-16 fighter jets repeatedly struck their Parliament, tanks rolled on the streets, prosecutors prepared an emergency constitution and made plans to hang not just members of the ruling party, but also of the opposition.

I wonder how exactly Turkey is expected to react to a massive terrorist insurrection, when it is yet to determine exactly who instigated the coup, and whether it has been fully thwarted or whether it will yet succeed. How would our state respond to such an incident? Would we not institute a state of emergency? Would we not see widespread arrests and suspensions in the course of the ensuing investigation?

I passionately believe that the Turkish government should use this near catastrophic event to reinvigorate its process of democratic reform, to carry the people with it and build a positive, vibrant, inclusive and tolerant society for all. I pray that they will not disappoint in this regard.

But let’s not be so naive to think that our reaction to events would be any different. If rogue officers hand commandeered several RAF Tornados on Friday night and dropped bombs on the Houses of Parliament, nobody would be calling on Theresa May’s government to show restraint.

If tanks had rolled down The Mall, crushing everything in their path, or if helicopters had fired on protestors gathering in Trafalgar Square, or if Balmoral had been bombed, you can imagine exactly what our reaction would be. We too would overreact. We too would take missteps and make mistakes. We too would institute emergency laws. It may not be right, but it is entirely understandable.

The influential

The obvious answer that alludes the scholar who asks, “Why must we condemn actions we’re not responsible for?” is not to assuage the demands of a hostile press or opportunistic politicians, but to offer unambiguous guidance to the kind of folk drawn towards extremism from amongst ourselves. That’s the role of people with influence.

Data mining sacred texts

Social Media timelines are awash with the results of a textual analysis of the Old Testament, New Testament and Qur’an, which in a very cursory way seems to suggest that the Qur’an is a more peaceful text than the Bible. Unfortunately it is one of those feel-good stories, easily shared, which falls apart on closer inspection.

Firstly because the Bible and the Qur’an are very different texts. What would happen if we were to compare biblical oral histories with those of Muslim tradition? Or the Acts of the Apostles to the accounts of early Muslim communities? The New Testament is made up of accounts of the life of Jesus, pseudo histories and letters of encouragement: though of course it informs the life of the Christian believer, it is of a completely different genre to the Qur’an. The Old Testament is an even more diverse body of literature, containing histories, poetry, canticles, mythology and law, spanning two thousand years.

More pertinently, however, the analysis was undertaken not on original sources in their native languages, but on English translations / interpretations. For the Bible, the New International Version was selected. For the Qur’an, Muhammad Ali’s Ahmadiyya rendering was used. Clearly data-mining any interpretation or translation of a text other than the original is going to severely skew the results.

It’s true that mining the original texts in Arabic, Hebrew or Aramaic would present its own set of problems. Even in their Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek forms, biblical texts have long histories spanning centuries of oral transmission, the written record and subsequent editing and refinement.

It doesn’t stop there. The nature of language itself is an issue for all traditions. The meanings of words are not independent of religious authority, which itself is not independent of the political establishment; naturally the definitions of words are very often politicised. Even so, a word-for-word analysis of earlier texts would at least avoid some of the layers of interpretational, doctrinal and linguistic bias introduced by the translator.

Textual analysis of this kind no doubt has its place, but it is too limited to be used on its own, other than to generate the kinds of headlines helpful to a small technology company seeking to stand out from the crowd.

A real analysis of sacred texts demands years of very patient work — much more than most of us are willing to pledge — taking in the meanings of surrounding words, grammar, ellipsis, philosophy, practice, historical context, later political developments and so on. On the road to understanding there are no shortcuts: it is a lifetime’s work.

To war

The irony of parliament’s decision is that it will now make it impossible to confront extremism in our communities. The world will now be framed as a polarised us and them, silencing voices of reason and restraint. Today, just like the government, our activists will silence all dissent, writing it off as treachery and dereliction. It is a tragedy of far-reaching and epic proportions.

Those who oppose warmongers of whatever shade will always be shouted down. In one fell swoop, parliament has radicalised a generation. Now is not the time to speak of food banks, or a winter fuel crisis effecting the elderly or the disintegration of public services. We now know why the Chilcot Inquiry has been delayed: because we dared not learn lessons of the last misadventure lest it dampen our enthusiasm for today’s.

Is there really a hierarchy of evil that makes it acceptable for us to sell arms and provide technical support to a regime responsible for killing thousands of civilians and displacing over a million more? We’re doing just that in Saudi Arabia today with respect to Yemen. Why lament these tragic hypocrisies? We have been engaged in this war without end for well over a century, but collective amnesia allows us to project our reality onto the other without a moment’s introspection.

Patriotism demands that we go to war. Peacemakers are terrorist sympathisers. That was the Sermon on the Mount nobody heard. Only the odd voice in the wilderness truly recalls the Beatitudes, and he is labelled an extremist. To war!