Dissent

So I see dissent is now extremism. To speak of a decade of crimes is to inhabit the world of apologists, falsely claiming victimhood. To speak of grievances is to tell a lie: Ali Ismail Abbas was not half incinerated by the reign of terror of Shock and Awe; there was no invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya under dubious circumstances; our governments did not arm and train the rebels we now claim to be fighting; unmanned aerial vehicles are not patrolling the skies of coutries we are not at war with, assassinating marked individuals and their famiies; refugees from barbarity are not being turned away; claims of torture and forced rendition were unfounded; we are not allies with nations exporting an intolerant ideology all around the world; we do not sell weapons to governments with terrible human rights records; our government has never failed to condemn the practice of blowing up entire apartment blocks to kill individuals with alleged terrorist affiliations; there was no recession caused by gambling money lenders; there is no poverty in our lands; there are no food banks, no homeless, no destitute in our streets; everything is beautiful; nothing is wrong. There are no parables to reach the powerful. Even the Archbishop of York is an extremist today.

Weathering the storm

I think we can be fairly certain that the target was chosen carefully — not as an attack on Freedom of Expression – but as a means to divide communities. And it has worked.

Just as many commentators have presented the false dichotomy that to be against the atrocities is to unwaveringly support the right to offend at whatever cost, so another artifice has emerged: exasperated by the vulgarity of a publication without boundaries (except French law), we forget our own opposition to murderous extremism, stumbling — as we seek to liberate ourselves from the ravaging rampage of the semi-free press — towards a mistaken accommodation of an ideology which a day before the shooting we were confronting with ferocious antipathy.

Passions are running high and all of a sudden we find ourselves steered off course by the prevailing winds. The rift is widening; the polarisation increasing. It’s time to take stock, to pull back, to take corrective action. Don’t be like the waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the unceasing wind.[2. Words etched into my mind from the New Testament’s Letter of James.]

In the heart of Europe

The BBC has proved without a shadow of doubt this week that European lives are worth more than others’. But then the thousands of refugees left to drown off the coast of Europe over the past five years already knew that. If the BBC afforded as much coverage as we witnessed on tonight’s evening News to every incidence of violence and depravity, might we then begin to humanize the other and engender positive change in our world? If only. We have witnessed thousands of civilians killed over the past year, amongst them journalists, writers and artists, but we would consider it unusual for an entire News broadcast to be dedicated to commemorations of the dead.

Europeans in modern times, perhaps, have much to be proud of: rule of law, peace and security, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, social compassion, fairness and justice, relative economic stability… But not all is well; an unpleasant arrogance pervades our psyche. We view ourselves as superior folk, with a superior political system, absolved of our history. We stand at the pinnacle of civilisation, we believe, gazing down at the barbarians from beyond our borders who wish us only harm.

The BBC’s coverage this week has not been journalism as we have come to understand it. It has been the weaving of a narrative: an explanation of events, not objective reporting of mere facts. It has been a secular sermon for our times: jingoistic and contrived. From Firdos Square in Baghdad, to Tahir Square in Cairo and Taksim Square in Istanbul, the BBC has refined its story for times of change. Today the crowds of Place de la Republique and Place de la Nation must be revolutionaries facing off not just the three criminals who gunned down innocents, but an evil ideology intent on the destruction of our way of life.

I pray this part-fictitious retelling of the week’s events does not become the legend that informs the decade ahead, like the events that informed the decade past. I pray that it will not be our Patriot Act, hastily confirmed amidst the high passions of the hour. I pray our Vince Cables and Will Selfs will stand witness against the maddening clamour of the worst part of ourselves. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is already well on its way through parliament. I pray that those minded to block it on the grounds of civil liberties will not be browbeaten into hysteric agreement by the impassioned histrionics of the narrators.

Like all peoples, we in Europe must reach into the wealth of our traditions to view ourselves with more critical eyes. Faith is not about grand cathedrals, synagogues and mosques, but about the state of our hearts. It is not about identity and belonging – for God will judge each of us individually – but about how we live our lives. Our leaders have been too ready to view war as the solution to our external problems, although all the evidence opposes this conclusion: in the wake of our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, we have left a trail of destruction. Our leaders have been all too ready to balance the books, without providing any balance in society. And as individuals, we have been all too ready to be led by the story tellers in our midst.

Faith teaches us to turn on ourselves to make society better. It teaches us to look and reach within. To purify our hearts of selfish desires: of envy, pride and dishonesty. To become compassionate souls, who attend to the poor and weak, who look after orphans and the infirm. To become just individuals, who fight against corruption and oppression. To become those who are mindful of God, and of the rights of others, be they rich or poor, young or old, friend or foe. To become those who contribute positively to society.

In this time of strife, the people need healing parables, not patriotic calls to arms. In this time of difficulty we need to be reminded of those stories of old on which we claim to have built our nations. Of the sheep herder who ministered to the despised leper. Of the Samaritan who rushed to the aid of the injured man. Of the Prophet who forgave those who attacked him, who freed slaves and gave of everything he had to the poor. We do not need the BBC to bring us a new revolution. The change we need comes from within ourselves.

Blood and gore

Dear amateur forensic criminologists,

If reality falls short of expectations, perhaps you should conclude that Hollywood’s special effects have been exaggerated all these years, rather than claim that what you saw on the news was a fictitious dramatization.

Yours sincerely.

Tragedy made real

Reminder to self: stop returning to the news, where you will only drown in the hatred of the angered masses. Think instead of the composed plea of the murdered policeman’s brother, who restored the humanity of the victims, stripping back the layers of politicised agitation.

Fasting

The big lesson to me this week has been to resist paying too much attention to the News – to avoid PM on Radio 4, to switch off Channel 4 News, to put the newspapers to one side. Had I done so, the non-stop commentary would never have sent me into a spin and a more sympathetic balance might have been maintained. But this is the nature of politics today. It is not about balance. It is about knocking us out of equilibrium. A lesson learned.

News

Both the act of terrorism and the reporting of terrorism are political.

Tuesday’s suicide bombing in Istanbul was featured in Breaking News and took second position on the BBC News website that evening, but was a mere footnote on the world news page by Wednesday morning (hours before the atrocity in Paris took place).

By that time it was known that the female suicide bomber was a member of the Marxist DHKP-C.

Though one suspects that the horror is broadly the same whether you are ripped to pieces by an Ideological Leftist, a White Supremacist, a Muslim Extremist or a Provincial Separatist, the vast majority of terrorist plots in this country and worldwide are not considered newsworthy. [1. According to Europol statistics, Islamists were responsible for 0.7% of failed, foiled and completed terrorist plots across Europe between 2006 and 2013.]

News, after all, is not a natural account of everything that is happening in the world. News is a political and commercial construct. It is a product.

Speak Up

Events like this are meant to silence us in multiple ways.

To silence our response to extremism, because it must be on mainstream terms.

To silence our opinions, because they supposedly legitimize the actions of extremists.

To silence our voices in our own communities, because the world is framed as a polarized us and them.

To silence our compassion for the wronged elsewhere, because victimhood is political.

I suggest we resist: speak up. Speak kindly, graciously, gently, politely and fairly. Speak against yourself if you are wrong and for yourself if you are right. Speak the truth. Speak with and of justice. Speak no lie and never in vain. Speak up.

“…stand firmly in justice, witnesses for God, even if against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both…” 4:135

Timing

You may be right that now is not the time for Muslims to object to being bashed over the head for their alleged hatred of freedom in response to the actions of two or three criminals…

Conversely, you might argue that now is not the time for journalists, columnists and politicians to debate the fate of multiculturalism, the place of Islam in Europe, the right to offend Muslims and the impact of immigration on civic society…

…all of which have been trawled over and discussed ad nauseam over the past twelve hours on the Radio, on TV and in the Press.

You may be right that now is the time for Muslims to be quiescent; to apologise for actions which they did not commit or condone.

Conversely, you might argue that if silence is demanded from one, it should be demanded of the other.

Tinderbox

I’m sorry, but the reporting and commentary on the BBC news this evening was shocking.

Knowing nothing about the identity of the attackers, we learn that France must ask itself whether it has got its approach to immigration right. Now rolling commentary on communal tensions.

But who’s to say the perpetrators aren’t natives, self radicalised by watching videos on the internet, like Maxime Hauchard, Mickael dos Santos or Raphael Amar?

Can all those words, broadcast to millions over the airways be taken back? Can the rolling commentary be undone?

What a vast amount of timber can be set ablaze by the tiniest spark.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The sanctity of life

The past century has witnessed such extreme violence, with 160 million people killed in war, that our leaders are incapable of taking a stance based on morality.

70 million people were killed over six years during World War II alone, around 60% of whom were civilians.

900,000 people were killed during Rwanda’s civil war in 1994. 75,000 people were killed in the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea between 1998 and 2000.

The war in Congo has left 3.8 million dead since 1998.

An estimated 40,000 died as a result of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan; 160,000 as a result of the invasion of Iraq.

300,000 killed over six years in Darfur. 38,000 in Pakistan’s war with the Taliban. 130,000 killed in Syria since 2012.

Staggering figures – and still only a small sample of recent and current conflicts worldwide. The bloodshed of the current era is without precedent.

The age of morality has long since passed. Our leaders can only take a stance based on strategic interest today; civilian lives are expendable in an era in which millions have already died.

Discovering that a few of the dead had lives, loves and dreams is simply an inconvenient truth: momentarily our leaders may squirm uncomfortably in the face of human reality, but ultimately the dead are merely statistics amongst hundreds of thousands already deceased.

We, the people, may lament the cold indifference of our leaders and their certain hypocrisy, but our politics have already been stamped with moral bankruptcy: vacuous platitudes about human rights can do nothing to bring millions of innocents back to life.

The hearts of our leaders are already dead. There is no morality here, no right and wrong or good and evil. There is strategic interest, money, power, greed and the domination of finite resources.

How can we explain to our leaders that all life is sacred? That to save one life is as if to save all humanity? Global society needs a reboot.

Witnesses to truth

Last year, photos of the 2012 Istanbul Eurasia Marathon were shared all over the the internet amidst claims that they represented mass anti-government protests.

These claims were easily debunked, but others based on traffic accidents and earlier incidents were more difficult to verify and separate from genuine news.

In every conflict there is truth, truth mixed with falsehood, and straight falsehood.

In 2012, early in the Syria conflict, the BBC used a 2003 photo from Iraq to illustrate the Houla massacre. If their photo researchers can get it so wrong, what about us?

Please think twice about sharing photos of conflict if you have no idea where they come from.

The victims of the bombardment of Gaza will not be helped by the distribution of photos from 2009 and 2012, and from Syria, Iraq and other conflicts.

The victims of horrific violence need justice and aid, not advocacy based on partial misinformation. Be witnesses to truth.

Utter Condemnation

Proof that the pen is mightier than the sword: Government immediately utterly condemns an MP’s tweet, but refuses to condemn shelling of hospitals and hundreds of missile strikes on family homes.

No nation would accept missiles raining down on them, they say (drone strikes on Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia don’t count).

So we refuse to condemn the slaughter of innocents. But it’s okay: pens are mightier than the most powerful armies on earth, and we will condemn anyone wielding a pen immediately and without reserve.

Together

The world is too emotionally terrifying today, too draining and too frightening. Politicians, militants and social commentators alike want to divide us into groups, into us and them, to turn us on each other, to score points, to take sides, to have compassion for some and hatred for others.

Today the news is of the demise of Christianity in Iraq, as if the heritage and lives of Muslims wiped out at the same time and by the same aggressors do not count. To the author, it is us and them. While in Gaza, as vast weaponries rain down on civilians, the same commentators speak of Muslim populations, apparently set on the destruction of Israel. Never are the Christians of Gaza mentioned. Never, when Hanan Ashrawi so eloquently speaks for the suffering of her people, are we reminded of her faith.

For on the ground it is not us and them, but everyone all in it together. The powerful and well-armed clash, and all around ordinary people who have always lived side by side, scatter and scarper in an unholy terror. When will this madness end? Only when those of us, different though our faith may be, rally to each other’s aid and stand out for truth and justice, whether for friend or foe.

As the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “On the Day of Judgment I will be the advocate for the Jew or Christian whose right was violated.” As the Proverb goes: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.”

Blaming victims

Every time there is an enquiry into how abusers were able to get away with their abuse for so long and why those who were abused were ignored, the state proudly proclaims: “Never again will we blame the victims for the crimes perpetuated against them.”

And yet here we are, witnessing the lives of innocents being torn apart, and once more our politicians are blaming the victims for the actions of their attackers, justifying the inexcusable without the faintest shred of compassion.

It is amazing to see that the powerful have no hearts.

Lizard holes

‘Israel has no civilians,’ says a friend: ‘all Israelis are soldiers, waiting to be called up.’

What, not even a 10 year old girl on her way to school or an old man in a care home?

To me, this sounds more like the sunnah of the Irgun gang than the noble deen I follow, which emphasises the impermissiblity of attacking women and children not engaged in direct combat (even if soldiers), where off-duty soldiers are treated as civilians and where collateral damage is considered unlawful (to my knowledge, only the Shafi’i school allows for the possibility of collateral damage, though even then only under specific conditions). Life is sacred.

The notion that all residents are legitimate targets may be the principle the Israeli government and their allies are following in deliberately targeting homes and hospitals, which are clearly non-military targets. But that is not our way.

‘You will surely follow the path trodden by those before you,’ said our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, ‘step-by-step and inch-by-inch, so much so that if they went down into a lizard hole, you would follow them.’

Our turning away from the rules of war defined by Sacred Law is most certainly a catastrophic lizard hole to charge down, that will only result in more innocents suffering, everywhere.

Where are the wise ones who can advise us, in light of the strict codes of warfare and rules of engagement defined by Sacred Law, how the transgressed should fight back against tyrannical occupiers backed by the richest nations, who use the most sophisticated weapons on earth to destroy homes, kill and maim, and seize yet more land?

Our Sacred Law says be just, even with the enemy. Where are the wise ones who can tell us what this means, and who can set us back on track?

Do good

“Serve God and associate nothing with Him; and do good: to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbours who are near, neighbours who are strangers, the companion by your side, the traveler, and what your right hands possess: For God does not love not the arrogant, the boastful.”  — Qur’an 4:36

Jumping off the cliff

The past few weeks have revealed the astounding wisdom of the traditional teachings of faith — that salutary advice found in pearls like the Letter of James of the Christian corpus and in the traditions of the Prophet of Islam alike.

Advice like ‘do not act on your anger’: that the strong man is not the one who fights hard, but he who restrains himself in anger. Advice like ‘control your tongue’: consider what a vast amount of timber can be set alight by the tiniest spark.

Alas, politicians are heedless of the timeless wisdom of sages down the ages, and so the world burns. Here is an instructive insight into what happens when rhetoric and rage take hold of a nation:

J J Goldberg: How politics and lies triggered an unintended war

The Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount were not esoteric counsel, but a practical prescription for the ailments of life in the world. Likewise, the teachings of our Prophet, peace be upon him, were not idealistic notions divorced from reality. We were not taught to purify our hearts only for times of peace and plenty, but for all times. Yes, in times of war, a soldier must be brave, fearless and strong, but he must also be just, merciful and true.

May God give us the wisdom to restrain ourselves in anger, to humbly serve the poor and oppressed, to do what is just, to speak the truth, be compassionate and to live a life that enables us to draw closer to Him.

Keyboard warriors

The keyboard warriors are doing battle, clashing on all frontiers. With rage they tap ever faster on keyboards of glass and plastic, outdoing their opponents with snippets of sentiment, oblivious to the weight of their words. All is fair in love and war, they believe, unconscious of the cautious wisdom of old that sought to restrain the tongue from its visceral temper.

With unrestrained brutality, their opponents will be vanquished, indignation seething through their veins. It is a battle that must be won, right now, right there on a tiny screen, for all to see and witness. It is a battle that must be won at all costs, no expenses spared — work may suffer, a prayer might be missed, real life companions might sit neglected — all must wait, for in the heat of war, everybody must know of the rightness of the warrior, and every other view, opinion or passing thought must be defeated.

He who forsakes argument, even when he is right: a sunnah unheard. Speak good or remain silent: another sunnah ignored. Be just even against your own selves: a command unpracticed. He does not utter a sentence except that an angel is near him ready to record it: an observation unobserved. The most excellent are those from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe: the best of advice unheeded.

Isn’t it strange that war is so easy and peace so difficult, because peace just requires everyone to do nothing, while war requires them to do so much? Peace costs nothing, while war costs all.

On physical battlefields great armaments are fired, lives squandered, money dissolved, emotions crushed, innocents obliterated, passions heightened, humanity aborted.

On virtual battlefields words are weapons, emotions are bullets, anger bombs, but in the rage of the battle it is the soul of the attacking combatant that dies; it is his heart which shrivels up, his ego inflated. Incline to peace remains unrecalled. On this battlefield his words must reign victorious, and all others must be vanquished.

And so the battle rages on. Into the night and the following day. These words can never be exhausted. There is still so much more to say.

Honey Pot

New laws will follow the widespread coverage of a dangerous social media campaign suddenly unleashed. The shepherds of Irton Moor will soon come knocking, because you were foolish enough to respond to media reports with a targeted keyword search. You will be criminalised for your curiosity. Hastag: it’s going to end in tears.

Tyrannical Anarchists

When it comes to answering a strange question on behalf of the citizens of Iraq — “Is it now okay to admit that Iraq was better off under tyranny than under unending anarchy?” — nothing really touches our leaders’ answer of Shock and Awe. Condemn them for their unceasing cynicism, not us; let them carry it with them to their graves.