Water Politics

Scratch the surface and you’ll find that many of today’s conflicts are about water, not ideology. An inconvenient truth.

Consider the shrinking Lake Chad in West Africa, the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan, and ISIS control of the Tigris and Euphrates, to name but 3 cases.

It was the view of one of my lecturers at SOAS 15 years ago that the next war in the Middle East would be over water. He did not predict US/UK intervention in 2003, but I don’t think he was far wrong.

Today there are probably around 50 countries (effecting almost 3 billion people) at high risk of violent conflict due to climate change, environmental degradation and related fresh water crises.

The geo-politics of water will dominate our age, though of course it will be packaged as a clash of civilisations, such is our thirst for palatable explanations.

Topsy-turvy

Ours is a community which can spin itself into a fury over a video featuring dancing Muslims, spewing forth a million words for or against, but falls dumb when a group of extremist lunatics reportedly kidnaps hundreds of girls from their school.

Ours in a community ready to excommunicate and denounce believers for the tiniest lapse – for wearing the wrong kind of clothes, thinking the wrong thoughts, reading the wrong books or attending the wrong mosque – all the while exhibiting startling leniency for the worst of crimes.

Where are those who pronounce on the fate of others when Muslims perpetuate mass murder? Where are they when it is our brothers who are the oppressors, the unjust, the barbaric? Where are their sharp judgements? Where their cutting cynicism?

Ours is a topsy-turvy community, where everything is upside-down and inside-out. Where listening to a silly song will earn you the wrath of thousands, but exploding a bomb in a crowded marketplace passes unremarked. Ours is a community which thinks itself serious, but can’t see the wood for the trees.

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.”

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.

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?

Chasing wild geese

I opened The Independent this morning to find a photograph of someone I once knew staring back at me. An entire decade has passed since we last set eyes on one another, but this article by Johann Hari brought memories flooding back. Not because his article resonated with me, mind you, but because his narrative troubled me. In Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again, Hari presents that old acquaintance as an ex-Jihadi—or he presents him as presenting himself that way. But the fellow I knew back then was nothing of the sort.

I cannot say I was ever a close associate of his—and so it is quite possible that I missed the portion of the tale that Hari recounts in his article—but we did encounter one another frequently between 1997 and 1999, as we were both students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in central London.

I first encountered him in the student common room in the SOAS halls of residence on Pentonville Road, where he would play pool and chain-smoke cigarettes. He wore designer clothes, had a very fashionable hairstyle and was always cleanly shaven. His rhetoric constantly concerned neo-colonialism, but this never had much impact on me as a student of International Development, where the post-colonial discourse was already commonplace. At SOAS, his assault on the mischief of the West was nothing extraordinary, for the socialists’ arguments were the same.

Even as a non-Muslim I found myself socialising with him quite frequently through my Muslim pool-partner, whom I had met going to a bizarre comedy show at the student union earlier in the year. Our gatherings often took place on Friday evenings in the cafes of Edgware Road, where we would drink bitter black tea and smoke fruit-flavoured tobacco. Again, the talk was of neo-imperialism, of western-proxies ruling the Islamic world and the Khilafah, but memorably the sources were Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and John Pilger.

Those social meetings ceased when I became Muslim in 1998, as I considered the smoking and time-wasting un-Islamic, but I continued to encounter him on campus. I largely kept company with a group of apolitical Salafis at the time, who were fiercely critical of HT whom they considered to hold heretical beliefs. The Salafis believed that the Muslim world would only be reformed by individual Muslims reforming themselves and adhering to the sunnah, whereas HT had a Leninist view that change would come about upon the establishment of the State. Thus I frequently stumbled upon arguments between this fellow and my friends, with the latter mocking HT as the Socialist Worker Party for Muslims.

I am puzzled, therefore, when Hari writes that my acquaintance, ‘wanted to be at the heart of the jihad’, for I never heard him talk about this even once, even theoretically. Instead he was perpetually obsessed with the idea that ‘intellectual argument’ would be the driver for change in the Muslim world. He went on about ‘intellectual arguments’ to such an extent that it became something of a joke amongst the other students.

I have no idea whether the tale of a coup plot involving junior Pakistani army officers is in any way true. However, it is the case that he was involved in an attempted coup in 1999 rather closer to home: not in dusty Karachi, but in the tiny second-floor prayer room at SOAS. Here he intended to wrest control of the Islamic Society from the Iqwanis, who had wrested control from the Salafis earlier in the year.

I know this, because he thought this quite amiable, decent chap would help him. His great talent, as I recall, was not so much in being able to convince people and win them over, but in talking them into submission. He would go on and on at you with circular arguments so that in the end you would agree with him just to be able to change the subject.

And so it was one day when he came over to my flat to argue that something had to be done about the Islamic Society, which he claimed was corrupt and unrepresentative of the Muslim students: he talked at my flatmate and me for ages until we finally agreed to put our names to his vote of no-confidence. Unfortunately he did not get the message when I rang him back to tell him I had changed my mind and the next I knew about it was when members of the Islamic Society came for me, demanding to know why my name was listed on a petition pinned to the notice board in the prayer room.

Alas, I never had the privilege of reading the notice, but was in any case called on to attend a special meeting of the Islamic Society to explain what it was all about, for the instigator had disappeared and was unreachable on his mobile phone. As in Hari’s article, he was never drawn on the details of this coup plot either, but it did make my remaining days at SOAS somewhat uncomfortable where the Islamic Society was concerned.

Meanwhile, he continued to organise lectures on campus, inviting academics like Fred Haliday to duels where he would demonstrate the power of his ‘intellectual arguments’. Nobody I knew ever considered him a jihadi, but only something of a friendly bore. Rather than taking him seriously, people dismissed him as a caricature socialist wrapped up in Muslim garb.

Reading Hari’s article, however, he sounds like a great Missionary, steaming off to one Muslim country and then another as if on an adventure inspired by Indiana Jones. Hari writes that he ‘decided to move on to Egypt’. Yet to say that he decided to move on to Egypt is to stretch language a little far. In reality he was undertaking a degree in Arabic at SOAS and was required to spend a year in Alexandria as part of the course, like every other student.

Even there his capacity to talk people into submission was well noted, even by his lecturers, who advised him to reign in his tongue. But he was not one to listen to such advice and was soon arrested for belonging to a banned political party. Upon his release several years later, he appeared on Hard Talk on the BBC News channel, still eloquently and passionately defending HT, once again talking of those ‘intellectual arguments’.

All these memories signal my trouble with Hari’s article. Yes, he was indeed a recruiter for HT and he was dedicated to this cause. But to claim he was a jihadi is to stretch the truth too far. Granted I never attended any of HT’s gatherings to learn what may have lain beyond the mockery of my friends; perhaps, if I had, I might have formed a different picture of him. But in the ordinary interaction between us, and in witnessing his debates with friends and his famous debates with secular academics, I believe I framed a fair picture of the man. He was a passionate and eloquent disputant, absorbed in the kind of post-colonial rhetoric common to many students of the time, like my many socialist acquaintances.

I am not dismissing his devotion to HT or excusing it. I am merely suggesting that the article I read this morning was full of exaggerations. I am not in denial about the threat of extremism within the Muslim community—indeed, I have noted elsewhere the advice I was given to steer clear of known extremists when I first became Muslim. My objection to Hari’s article is that for me it raised more questions than it answered.

Why, I find myself wondering, is it necessary to build oneself up as a great sinner who saw the light—like Paul on the road to Damascus—in order to denounce what is wrong? There are many, many Muslims who have been quietly, modestly, cautiously working on the ground to counter extremism for years and years. Theirs is a thankless task. Condemned by the extremists and ex-extremists alike, their work is ever more difficult. These men and women did not need to venture to the brink and back to realise that it was wrong; they had already delved into their faith and forged a forward path.

Should I be grateful that I saw that face peering back at me from the newspaper this morning, for reminding me of all of this? I’m not sure to be quite honest, but of one thing I’m pretty sure: Johann Hari has just been sent on a wild goose chase. I hope he realises this before he invests too much hope in his new found friends.

Killing

Why all the killing? I really cannot comprehend it at all. A bomb planted in a Peshawar marketplace extinguishes the lives of 91 in an instant as it rips through everything in its path; 200 more are left injured. Just a matter of hours earlier 150 are slaughtered in Baghdad.

Islam holds that indiscriminate violence is makruh (offensive) on the battlefield and haram (forbidden) in a place where there are civilians. This slaughter follows not the sunnah of our Prophet, upon whom be peace, but that of the twentieth century, during which 250 million people were needlessly killed. Fifteen million during the First World War, 9 million during the Russian Civil War, 20 million under Stalin’s regime, 55 million during the Second World War, 2.5 million during the Chinese Civil War, and on, and on.

Who gave Muslims permission to adopt the sunnah of the Luftwaffe and RAF, who once championed terror bombing for utilitarian ends? And who gave them permission to abandon the sunnah of the Messenger, peace be upon him, which forbade attacks on non-combattants?

Who now will stand up to the killers and defend our deen and the common man? If a man in the midst of this anarchy must now blunt his sword and resign himself to a fate like that of the better of the two sons of Adam, does the burden then pass to those of us living in safety and security?

For years Muslims have lamented that though we condemn terrorism repeatedly, nobody hears us. But today we realise that all this time we have been addressing the wrong ears. Those who needed to hear us were not our angry neighbours, but those men wielding high explosives and an alien utilitarian way.

Amidst the carnage of a bombed-out marketplace, who now will make themselves heard?

Who said we were pacifists?

Who said Muslims were pacifists? I have never heard a Muslim say such a thing. In fact, the only religious community I have encountered personally who take an anti-war stance are the Quakers. My father is now an Anglican priest, but his passionate faith did not prevent us from spending our childhood climbing all over tanks, artillery and fighter planes at military museums and air shows. My practising Christian neighbour used to design guided missile systems for the RAF. I seem to recall that the vicar that oversaw my Confirmation used to fly the Lightning (I may be mistaken here).

The fact that I was brought up in a Christian household did not prevent me from receiving a toy sub-machine gun for my seventh or eighth birthday, it had no impact on the choice of the SAS Handbook as a Christmas present for me one year, or stop us boys from each adopting a fighter plane: my eldest brother had the Tornado, my middle brother the Phantom, while I the Harrier Jump Jet, and still I would probably champion it if a top-trumps discussion on fighter planes were ever to occur.

Today there is a discussion occurring online in which it is claimed that there are Muslims that can be compared to Zen Buddhists, who deny that Islam has anything to say about warfare. This is peculiar, because I have never encountered such people or such arguments. I have never read a book concerning the sira—even those intended for children—that has not touched upon the battles that occurred in the Hijra years. The charge seems to be being levelled particularly at those who call themselves Sufis, but this too seems peculiar to me, for in my reading of Islamic history Sufis have always featured prominently as those who would go to war when the battle cry was heard.

What I have encountered, however, are the many Muslims that point out that war is limited in Islam by the shariah: that we don’t just adopt the norms of modern warfare because everyone else is doing it, that we don’t accept the concept of total war, that we consider the idea of collateral damage illegitimate. Yes, I have heard all of this, for sure. And what is wrong with this? It is called adherence to the sunnah.

Yes, I have heard Muslims condemning terrorism. Are such Muslims pacifists? No, they are people who are familiar with the sunnah and shariah: people who appreciate that indiscriminate killing and vigilantism are prohibited in Islam. People who respect the Prophetic guidance passed down to them, which places boundaries on what is halal and haram.

Sure, there are non-Muslims who demand that Muslims deny that their religion has anything to say about war, like that mocking website, Religion of Peace, which all the same permits its contributors to support Israel’s onslaught on Gaza. Sure, there are powers that demand the disarmament of Muslim nations, despite their own frightening arsenals of nuclear weapons and stealth technology. Sure, there are those that demand that Muslims should forever turn the other cheek like the Christians of the first century of their era.

I have never, ever heard a Muslim say such things, however. Sure, plenty of Muslims have claimed that Islam means Peace, but that’s not quite the same thing as saying that Islam has nothing to say about warfare. Even the Qur’an presents that duality: ‘Now if they incline toward peace, then incline to it, and place your trust in God.’

To take a Muslim’s condemnation of indiscriminate, unlawful violence and twist it into a parting from the sunnah is pure mockery. I won’t be apologetic that Islam pronounces on warfare and sets out rules of engagement, but I also won’t stand for those who demand that we blindly support the actions of Muslims wherever they are involved in conflict. That is not pacifism. It is recognition that warfare is a serious matter that is viewed entirely seriously by our deen.

In Defence of Civilisation

I have before me a copy of The Telegraph—it isn’t mine; my grandmother left it with us after her visit today—and there is a photograph and a headline on the front that occupy me. I keep on returning to the dining table to sit hunched over it, studying the photograph and the words that accompany it.

The strap line above the photograph reads ‘Hamas Leader killed as bombs destroy home’, but the picture immediately below tells its own story. In the background we see three buildings severely damaged: not destroyed, but still no longer habitable. And then there is the rubble strewn land where Nizar Rayan’s house is said to have stood. But looking at the buildings in the background, it seems clear to me that this space once accommodated—by my estimation—at least a dozen similar buildings.

And so there we have it: in its pursuit of one man the Israeli air force not only chose to hold his seven innocent children responsible for the decisions of their father, killing them along with his wife and relatives, but it also chose to blow to pieces the homes of fifteen of his neighbours.

And what is a home? It is not just the place where we rest our heads. A home contains furniture, clothes, books, photographs, memories. A home contains treasured possessions, things of sentimental worth. The jewellery that a husband bought his beloved. The toys that a mother bought to put smiles on the faces of her children. I consider my own home a part of me: it is my abode of peace, my sanctuary, the container for much that I am. A home is more than bricks and mortar.

The newspaper article does not say what happened to his neighbours. If they survived, clearly all they have left is their body and soul, for the bricks and mortar have been pulverised and their every possession destroyed. If they are alive, they will have only the clothes on their backs.

The loss of innocent life is regrettable say the spokesmen for the state of Israel, but what are such words worth when the missiles fired at ‘identified targets’ are powerful enough to pulverise an entire street? Our politicians—who only a matter of weeks ago rightly condemned the atrocities in Mumbai absolutely—express ‘worry’ about the situation. A dozen houses flattened in a split second and you tell us you are worried?

A couple of nights ago I read an article by Melanie Phillips in The Spectator which sought to condemn her one-time ally, Mr Ed Hussein, for his part in protesting about the massacre of innocents. Mr Hussein, she argued, was still the Islamist through and through, misrepresenting the actions of Israel to suit his own agenda. The article was only partly about that infamous author however: it was really about the innocence and righteousness of Israel in responding to its terrorist neighbours, and the bulk of the comments that followed the article were congratulatory in their tone, praising Ms Phillips for speaking the truth, for consistently standing up in defence of Western Civilisation.

She and they are entitled to their opinions, but to me the arguments resembled those of the very people they claim to loathe. Responding to Mr Hussein’s claim that innocents were being massacred, Ms Phillips wrote, ‘The vast majority of Gazans who have been killed were Hamas terrorists. According to today’s UN figures, 364 have been killed of whom only 62 were civilians.’ Ignoring for a moment that police officers have been included in the non-civilian category, is ‘only’ an appropriate word to describe the tragic deaths of innocents? The death toll of the bombings in London on 7 July 2005 was 12 less than this number, but I have no difficulty describing it as a massacre. Fifteen people died in the Columbine High School shooting, and we still call it a massacre. What an odious defence.

What is it that these people do not get? The protests against this conflict are not a defence of Hamas. It is a protest against the killing of innocents, against firing heavy explosives into densely populated residential areas. Oh yes, Britain dare not complain after conceiving Operation Gomorrah. Germany would be a hypocrite after the Blitzkrieg. And what could the United States say after the Manhattan Project? Nations may stumble, but the ordinary man and woman knows that it is wrong. And so this is their cry.

Repeating ad nauseam that Hamas is to blame misses the point entirely. Ms Phillips may claim that ‘Israel has been targeting only the Hamas infrastructure and its terror-masters,’ but she ignores completely the power of the weapons they are using: weapons which are capable of pulverising a dozen houses into a pile of rubble within minutes, which cannot target with the precision she believes they have because their power is just too great.

We the people—not the leaders of our nations—protest because we see with our own eyes children’s lives cut short. Can you justify the death of one child? I can’t.

But in the comments that followed that article, people were indeed doing just that, arguing that it was just an unfortunate consequence of the battle with the terrorists. Thus the respectable readers have themselves become the very people they claim to loathe, no different from another group of people that is indifferent to human life. There are no surgical operations here—in the old European world amputation was the answer to many an ailment when directed infection control was all that was required—for collateral damage is not just tolerated, but justified too.

Some people may defend Hamas, claiming that by their actions they are fighting a resistance against Israeli occupation, but I cannot. The argument is often made that the Palestinians do not have F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, cruise missiles and tanks, and that if they did they would fight a traditional war of army versus army; because the only weapons they have are the meagre resources around them, striking against the military is like David fighting Goliath. I would not necessarily reject that thesis, but still I lack sympathy for the organisation we know as Hamas.

What options do the Palestinians then have to resist occupation, to break the wall and fight the blockade? I’m afraid I do not have an answer. I am not a strategist and I have no skills in international relations, so I cannot provide an educated commentary on the actions of Hamas. I can only return to my very simple interpretation of my faith: to those ideas that the civilian is not to be attacked in war, that we do not destroy their homes or cut their fruit trees down. If our jurists sought to condemn the use of suicide bombing in 1994, why should the passage of 15 years now make it halal?

I may well be mistaken in my simple faith, and of course it is easy to be an idealist as an outside observer with little intimate knowledge of the facts on the ground—and indeed as one who has never had to live all my years under a humiliating occupation—but I would be a liar if at this time of passion and emotion I denied that my gut reaction to the practice of firing hundreds of missiles indiscriminately at civilians in a nation with vastly superior weapons each day was that it not only flies in the face of our Prophetic guidance, but also makes no sense at all. But again I speak as a simpleton, one unversed in strategy.

In truth, I do not know a lot about Hamas. When I was an undergraduate 10 years ago the Palestinian Society at my university organised a lecture on the conflict which included a discussion on the role of Hamas. Some students claimed that Hamas was being funded by the Israelis to undermine the PLO, while others claimed that they were actually a popular social movement that spent 90% of its income on hospitals, schools and welfare, and just happened to have a military wing as well.

I don’t have enough information about Hamas to make an informed decision about them, but can I honestly deny my feelings about the deaths of over 600 people, women and children included, that it is claimed were killed during the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah over the past year? That’s far more than were killed during the Passover massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in March 2002, for which Hamas claimed responsibility. When I read on Christmas Day that 27 bakeries out of a total of 47 in Gaza City have been shut down completely due to a lack of cooking gas and wheat, and that the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees had had to halt food distribution to 750,000 refugees because their stocks of wheat flour had run out, I couldn’t help the obvious questions that bubbled into my mind. Rockets versus bread.

When we protest about what is happening in Gaza today, it is a protest for humanity. It is not a defence of the actions of the group the Israelis claim to be fighting. It is a plea for a people already suffering from an 18-month blockade—the majority of whom are without adequate water, electricity or gas—to be allowed to live their lives in dignity. To be allowed to live, to have a right to their home, without the fear that it will be blown to pieces because Israel has identified a neighbour as a Hamas target.

Ms Phillips tells us:

‘The issue of Israel sits at the very apex of the fight to defend civilisation. Those who wish to destroy western civilisation need to destroy the Jews, whose moral precepts formed its foundation stones … Unless people in the west understand that Israel’s fight is their own fight, they will be on the wrong side of the war to defend not just the west but civilisation in general.’

But here I sit, with my grandmother’s copy of The Telegraph spread out before me and there’s that photograph that haunts me. Is this the defence of civilisation? A dozen homes destroyed for the sake of one man, his children executed for their father’s crimes? What kind of civilisation is this?

Shall I remind Ms Phillips of some of those moral precepts that formed the foundation stones of the civilisation she cherishes so? Let us delve into the Beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Eight lessons to live by. That, Ms Phillips, is civilisation.

I cannot promise

This weekend I intended to tidy my study, which is indisputably the messiest room in our house. Unfortunately, as often happens, I soon found myself side-tracked from the task and absorbed in reading a document that had no obvious place amongst my piles of bills and letters. It turns out it may not have been the most appropriate reading material for a Sunday afternoon, because now imagined images keep flashing before my eyes, causing me to weep.

I had barely dug into my huge pile of paperwork when I chanced upon a dossier of newspaper clippings from 1997, most of which were photocopied articles from The Observer, The Independent and The Financial Times. Each article related to the brutal massacres that ravaged Algeria that year, whether to the murderous rampages themselves or to the behaviour of the Algerian police.

Looking back to 1997, I was clearly aware of what was happening in a general sense, for I remember writing an article about it for the student magazine, but I am not sure that I was conscious of it. I mean, I am not sure I really appreciated how horrific it was, for my reaction then was not as it is now. I remember looking at it—as a non-Muslim with left-liberal leanings—as the media painting Muslims in a bad light, again. Where my sympathy for the victims was, I do not know.

I don’t know that I can bring myself to summarise what I read, or to pull out extracts to help you to understand. I am not even sure where to start. Won’t the headline from The Guardian on Monday 20 October 1997 suffice? ‘This is where they shot my wife. Here they killed my daughter with an axe’. Or from The Times on 23 October? ‘Algerian terror victims plead for death by bullet’. I am sorry, but I cannot go on, for the tears come flooding back.

At first those massacres were reported as the work of the GIA, the Armed Islamic Group, but within weeks suspicion had fallen on the police and army instead. In The Observer on 26 October 1997, ‘Robert Moore visits the Triangle of Death but doubts the official line’:

Women had been slashed to death. Infants thrown off balconies. Old men shot, and even pregnant women mutilated. All of it happened. I have never had a glimpse into such brutality and fanaticism.

We were told that those responsible for such crimes were solely the guerrillas of the GIA.

It was finally becoming clearer why the Algerian authorities were facilitating these trips to Sidi Moussa, Benthala, Rais and Larbaa. We were the tools that could be used to show the international community that there is no point negotiating with the militants…

If the public relations had ended there, both sides would have been contented. Shocked but mesmerised journalists would have had their story. And the Algerian government would have seen the GIA described as brutal killers, devoid of ideology…

But instead, witnesses started giving disturbing testimony about the role of the security forces and the behaviour of local militias. It was evident to all of us that many of the most harrowing attacks took place only a short distance from police stations and barracks. We could see that for ourselves.

Local people looked down at their feet when we asked how long it had taken for local troops to intervene. Four hours, some answered. Four hours to move a few hundred yards and engage the GIA? More questions followed, all of which hinted at collusion between the attackers and the security forces…

In the same edition, ‘A deserter in London tells Francoise Sergent of the army’s role in the killings’:

One evening last June his squad went on a mission. ‘They injected us with something, telling us it would makes us strong, so that we would not be afraid. People said it was cocaine.

‘They took us by plane, then by truck. Around three o’clock in the morning we were near a village, about 120 to 130 men. They told all the conscript soldiers to stay on the hillside overlooking the village and not to move, unless we saw a flare fired over the village streets.

‘About 25 enlisted men left in the direction of the village. We saw nothing and stayed without moving. Around 5.30 they came back. They were dirty, with false beards and smelling of musk like the Islamists. They were still wearing army trousers but had civilian T-shirts and really looked like typical Islamists. Some had blood on their trousers and their paratrooper knives were also bloody. They were asked nothing. No one asks anything in the army.’

The unit returned to the barracks in the morning. ‘I learnt that there had been a massacre in the village where they were. We knew it from the police who were nearby. There would have been about 30 dead. We made the connections, but nobody talked about it. We were terrified.’

On 12 January 1998, John Sweeney wrote in The Observer of Algerian policemen who said they had killed for the state:

The ninja – slang for the Algerian junta’s feared Balaclava-clad paramilitary police force – spoke quietly as he gave the details of the October 10 massacre last year.

“We were in a convoy of 16 vehicles, Nissan Jeeps and Peugeot 505s, four ninjas to each car. We left Chateauneuf police station (three miles to the west of the Casbah in central Algiers) at around 1.30am. The journey to the Algiers suburb of Rais Hamido took about 45 minutes. We were armed with Kalashnikovs and 9mm Berettas.

“Close to the target house, we stopped and waited for the special forces of the securite militaire. As soon as they arrived, one of us killed the electricity supply for the area, turning 20 to 30 houses completely dark. Switching off the electricity is one of our jobs,” explained “Robert”, a ninja trooper who fled from Algeria to Britain last month and only spoke to the Observer in the strictest anonymity.

“Our orders were clear. We should guard the surrounding area but not act unless we were given specific orders. The securite militaire went in and came out after a time, maybe two hours, maybe less. After they had gone, we went in to clean the place up. There were about 16 bodies, two families. I saw with my own eyes dead men, women and children, even a baby, all with their throats slit. I cannot tell you what it was like…”

So who is doing the massacres in Algeria?

“It’s us,” said the two ninjas in unison. Their testimony is damning evidence contradicting the official line of the Algerian government – that Islamic activists alone are responsible for the slaughter.

“Robert” and his fellow ninja, “Andrew”, gave detailed evidence of the state’s involvement in a whole range of human rights abuses: massacre by military security death squads, torture of the regime’s opponents, spying, and the murder of difficult journalists and popular entertainers to blacken the name of the Islamic activists in carefully organized psychological warfare.

Surely all of this is gruesome enough, but I have spared you the details reported in the dozens of newspaper articles in that dossier. My stomach turns as I look over them once more. Here is an article in The Independent on Saturday 1 November 1997 about the nightmares of torture—of a torturer. Here an article from The Independent on 31 October about the women who wait for their husbands and sons, even daughters, to come home—the thousands of men and women ‘disappeared’ by the security forces. Here an article detailing how the police forced prisoners to drink acid, how they pulled out their beards and finger nails. There is worse, but I dare not copy those words.

Some of my colleagues enjoy a good horror film at the cinema, which to me is a sign of a sick mind. But what we have witnessed here is not fiction, but reality. What we have witnessed here is all the horror of the worst horror film multiplied a thousand times over. These people existed, had dreams and desires, feelings and thoughts. Like you and I, they had mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. And like you and I, they too could be broken by brutality.

As I read through all of those newspaper clippings when I should have been tidying my room, a thought lodged itself in my mind: I don’t think I could survive such brutality. I don’t think I could survive my nails being ripped from my fingers. I don’t think I could survive such terror perpetrated against my family. I think my mind would die and my sanity leave me, even if my body survived.

I have always condemned terrorism, for I believe it is an abomination in the sight of God. Reflecting on the sunna, I believe Muslims are duty-bound to condemn it wherever it occurs, regardless of the perpetrator or the victim. A study of Islamic Law reveals that there is no place for the targeting of civilians even during a war. I have no room for extremism.

But as I sat reading those newspaper clippings on Sunday, a thought lodged itself firmly in my mind. I cannot promise that if I am ever exposed to violence of that kind I will not resort to extremism. I cannot promise that I will not lose my mind. And I cannot promise that I will survive.

Must we condemn? Yes we must

Two Muslim authors have told us today that we must not condemn the terrorist atrocities carried out in India yesterday: Umar Lee argues that American Muslims should not condemn them and Yusuf Smith that Western Muslims should not. They both argue their case effectively and I can see where they are coming from, but I must confess: when both of their headlines appeared in my blog-reader, I was utterly disgusted. To one of them I responded as follows:

I beg to differ. We should condemn them. We just should not condemn them because others demand us to do so.

We should condemn every single terrorist atrocity until we are blue in the face and until there are none.

This is because our religion teaches us to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. I just don’t care about this “we should not” because of what people think; it’s not about what people think.

It’s about getting the message through to terrorists that this is evil.

If one of you sees something bad he should change it with his hands, and if he cannot do that he should change it with his tongue, and if he cannot do that he should hate it in his heart, and that is the weakest of faith.

Your headline doesn’t sit well with me this evening I’m afraid. I utterly disagree.

Peace.

Someone argues that we do not know who was responsible for it yet. What has that got to do with it? We do not condemn it because we share some innate guilt. We condemn it because it is evil, because it is wrong, regardless of who did it or their reason. When bombs are rained down on a foreign land from a high-altitude bomber I condemn it because it is evil. When a gunman opens fire on civilians I condemn it because it is evil.

Someone argues that Muslims have condemned terrorist atrocities repeatedly but nobody pays any attention. What has that got to do with it? We condemn it not because a social commentator tells us to, but because Allah subhana wa ta’ala tells us to: “you enjoin right and you forbid wrong, and you believe in God”. And indeed because our beloved said:

Towards the latter days of indiscriminate violence, be like the first and better of the two sons of Adam who said, ‘If you raise your hand to kill me, I will not raise mine to kill you; surely I fear God, the Lord of the worlds.’ (from a sahih hadith in Tirmidhi)

Someone argues that we have no influence on people far away who have done this. Who says we have no influence? Do we not have prayers for rain? Do we have influence on the clouds of the sky? Yet we pray and it rains. You may have a neighbour who knows nothing about Islam, who sees this behaviour and believes it is of his religion. Perhaps your condemnation might make him think again.

Have some compassion. It does not matter who the perpetrators are or who the victims are. We condemn terrorism because it is wrong.

Denial / Defamation

When I embraced Islam in 1998, one of the first pieces of advice I received from Muslim friends was to learn the names of three people and then stay away from them. They were Abu Hamza, Omar Bakri and Abdullah Faisal.

A few months later I received an angry email from my father, demanding to know whether I had passed his email address on to a group of Islamic extremists. He had received a mass email purportedly sponsored by a vast array of Muslim organisations which told him to convert to Islam or face the consequences. I most certainly had not passed on my father’s email address to anybody and, glancing at the other email addresses – other public figures in the church – I surmised that his email address had been harvested along with others from Christian websites.

My father was a Canon at the time and in charge of all of the lay preachers in his diocese. Rather distressed by my father’s anger, I showed the email to a fellow student who had been involved with Hizb-ut-Tahir a few years earlier: he told me about Omar Bakri, the leader of al-Muhajirun, characterising him as a nutcase, and advised me that none of the organisations listed at the end of the email actually existed. The man, apparently, had a habit of making up names to make his little band of followers efforts’ more credible.

They plot and plan, but Allah is the best of planners. How little their trust in God: believing they had to send shocking emails to Churchmen, as if God could not guide members of their family without their intervention – like the arrogance of the Christian Right who rejoice in a Pentagon-led Armageddon, as if they can dictate their Creator’s timetable.

Over the next few years we heard a lot from the trio I was told to avoid. Around mid 2000, a close friend of mine found himself the focus of attention of an evangelical Christian colleague who spoke frequently of Islamic extremists in our midst; her husband worked for the Police force and apparently had much to say about Muslim radicals. Tired of her constant bombardment, my friend asked her to ask her husband why Abu Hamza was still free to preach despite frequent complaints from the Muslim community at large. That was a question that was never answered.

To be continuously told by the government, media and senior Police officers, therefore, that the British Muslim community is in denial about the existence of extremists amongst us is quite hard for me to grasp. The warnings I received were not from lapsed Muslims who were happy to compromise their beliefs for political gain, but from practising, active individuals. Prior to the attacks on the US on 11 September 2001, I listened to many Muslims lamenting the authorities’ refusal to deal with people well known to be creating community tensions. Indeed, witnessing this laxity, some members of the community even began to entertain conspiracy theories about these free men. The Muslim community complained about their outrageous statements and the authorities appeared to do nothing.

No, I don’t believe the Muslim community is in denial about the threat of extremism. Taking issue with sensational investigations in the media in not indicative of a culture of repudiation. There are good reasons to oppose the trend of smearing individuals and community organisations – even if we may not like these people very much personally. Just because others say jump, it doesn’t mean we have to. Our criteria should always be truth and justice. Not accusation and innuendo.

The Wakeup Call

In the community in which I live I could not say that there is a problem of extremism amongst the Muslim youth. Not ‘Islamic Extremism’ in any case – jahil extremism maybe. In this community, our concerns are with drug use, alcohol consumption and anti-social behaviour. A friend tells me that some young Muslims are bringing drugs into the area to foster a previously non-existent trade in the town. Our local press has reported on a number of occasions about youths in our town being given ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders); troublingly in each case the recipients have Muslim names. Late on Friday and Saturday nights, young Muslims gather in the centre of town, smoking perpetually and ranting aggressively with sentences littered with expletives. This is probably not what the middle-class commentators have in mind when they call for Muslims to integrate with society; still here the Muslims certainly are adopting the culture of those they find themselves amongst.

Undoubtedly British Muslims have a duty to tackle extremism in our midst, where it exists, but there is also an urgent need to tackle the vast array of huge social problems which have emerged. A friend of mine is the head of department in an inner city London secondary school and he is appalled by the behaviour of his students – more so, he laments, because the majority of them come from Muslim families. Apart from having no knowledge of their religion whatsoever, these young people have no manners, no respect for the people around them and are frequently members of gangs. The Muslim community makes up barely 2% of the British population and yet 7% of the prison population. The Muslim Youth Helpline draws the following inferences from research carried out by Muslim organisations:

– Drug abuse and smoking are shown to have a significantly higher prevalence amongst Muslim youth between the ages of 16-25 years, despite the fact that an estimated 45% of Muslim youth have never used illicit drugs, smoked tobacco or drunk alcohol.

– Mental Illness occurs more frequently amongst Muslim youth, particularly those that enter Britain as refugees. Almost one-half of the Muslim Youth Helpline’s clients complain of mental anxiety, depression or suicidal feelings.

– Muslims make up 7% of the country’s prison population, a figure that is five times that of the total Muslim population in Britain today. Numerous clients of the Muslim Youth Helpline have been to prison and one client recently accessed our service from prison.

As I have noted before, I work with a national helpline charity which aims to help Muslim women in crisis. Domestic violence is rife, divorce rates are high and the issue of forced marriage is not going away. My wife used to work as a social worker around the time she became Muslim and it is sad to report that huge numbers of unwanted babies are being abandoned by Muslims in the care of social services, often by Muslim girls who became pregnant outside marriage. Meanwhile educational achievement amongst young Muslims remains poor. All in all, as a community we have huge problems and the question of extremism is only one of them.

With the Prime minister’s words to the Muslim community this week about doing more to tackle extremism, the first response is naturally one of defence. We ask what power we have, given that the extremist groups quite deliberately do not frequent established mosques. If wider British society is understandably not asked to root out the extremism of the BNP, we ask, why should the Muslims be asked to take on the role of the Police and Local Government? But once these initial objections pass, we are faced with a very uncomfortable truth: despite pockets of light – and there are many examples of the Muslim community making a positive and successful contribution to society – there are issues which we as a community must address ourselves.

Merely resorting to the very un-Islamic sense of victim-hood is not going to help any of us. Merely condemning terrorism is not going to help us either. Nor is my writing about social problems going to help. Like my friend who went into teaching or those running the various Muslim help lines, there is a realisation that we need to get out into the community to engage in social works. There has been too much focus on establishing a Muslim media, believing that this is somehow going to improve our situation. But public relations exercises are always bound to fail when what lies beneath the surface is diseased. My experience of this media over recent months suggests that our priorities are confused – I might even say we have our heads stuck in the sand. On several occasions I have been asked to write something about the nasheed business and listening to music. That’s right: at a time when Muslims have a disproportionate representation in prisons, when Muslims believe it is acceptable to target civilians with bombs, when drug use and gang membership is mushrooming, the issue which is causing most debate in our community is listening to music. Has nobody heard the narration of the sahaba who was asked whether it was permissible to kill mosquitoes, at a time when righteous Muslims were being slaughtered in that early great fitna.

It’s time we extracted our heads and awoke to the realities facing us. Coinciding with the first anniversary of the explosions on the London transport system, there will be a lot of focus on the Muslim community this month. Some of it will be unfair, some of it deeply insulting, some of it untrue. But let us not pity ourselves. We have a lot of work to do. If one of you sees something bad, we are ordered, you should change it with your hands, and if you cannot do that you should change it with your tongues, and if you cannot do that you should hate it in your heart, and that is the weakest of faith. For years we have been using our tongues and our typing fingers, but we seem reluctant to use our hands. We are reluctant to get out there on the streets as youth workers, teachers, social workers. The time has come. This anniversary of 7 July should serve as a reminder of this. It is a wakeup call.

Conspiracy

Today’s Guardian carries a story about the tendency amongst the ordinary man to believe in conspiracy theories, in this case focusing on the mass murders on the London transport system last July. Muslims are not alone in harbouring this tendency – the book Londonistan by a famous British commentator describes a vast conspiracy in which you and I are set on conquering this land against the back-drop of a liberal, anti-Semitic media agenda – but there is no denying it exists amongst us.

When in the afternoon of 11 September 2001 our production manager at work informed us that somebody had flown a plane into one of the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, by initial foreboding thought was that Muslims were involved. I wasn’t aware of the scale at that stage: in my mind I had the picture of a tiny single-prop Cessna and the memory of the 1993 plot to explode a bomb underneath the towers. When I returned home that evening and saw the images on the TV news, that initial reaction changed. Overtaken by emotion, I was almost physically sick, the repeated images burning my eyes, and I could no longer accept that initial conclusion of mine. This wasn’t the action of a single nutter, incinerating himself as his plane disintegrated as it crashed through the windows; here was a calculated, co-ordinated act of extreme brutality in which two commercial jets had been flown with absolute precision to their destination, massacring a civilian population. As one who had looked into the concept of war in Islamic Law, which prohibits any action that would cause harm to non-combatants – even to the extent that Muslim soldiers may not interfere with fruit trees – I could not accept that Muslims were responsible.

So when an ordinarily sensible brother sent me a link to an article on a website entitled “What really happened?” I, like many other otherwise intelligent Muslims, found myself clinging to alternative theories and the many questions. It didn’t help that the media had been reporting ridiculous stories about the terrorist mastermind’s passport being found in the rubble of the World Trade Centre, not to mention the “Smoking Gun” video featuring the fat Bin Laden. For a couple of months I was scouring the web for “the truth”, looking for evidence that “we’d been set up”. Much of the speculation was clearly detritus originating with right-wing Christians, Milleniumist, Messianists, Supremacists and others united on pro-gun, anti-federal government, anti-UN and anti-Semitic politics, often with strong views about a move towards one-world-government and a new-world-order. Whackos in common parlance. Still, the doubts remained and all of us wanted to prove that Muslims had no part in that horrific act.

Along came the declassified document concerning Operation Northwoods which had been published on the National Security Archive‘s website in 1998 and featured in a CNN documentary on the Cold War in the same year. Contained within this 1962 document entitled Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba were various proposals or outline plans that could be used to garner public and international support for US military intervention in Cuba. The suggestions included staging sabotages and sinking an American ship at the US Military Base at Guantanamo Bay and blaming it on Cuban forces, hijacking civilian planes, sinking boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba and setting up terrorist attacks in Washington and Miami, blaming it on Communists. Unlike the wild speculation of the internet’s gathering of eccentrics, most of whom had their own quite unpleasant agendas, here was a genuine declassified document which could be viewed independently of the united anti-something extremists. However unlikely it was that the actions of 2001 were part of some grand conspiracy on the part of the US government, this document was evidence that a precedent of past intent existed. Somewhat naively I wrote to Jon Snow at Channel 4 News, pointing him towards the National Security Archive website.
He wrote back, telling me that he would look into it. A week later he went off to New York to see the devastating carnage first hand where he would have concluded – as I did later – that Northwoods was just a long forgotten historical document. Soon afterwards Channel 4 broadcast a documentary debunking 911 Conspiracy Theories.

Over the years since then I have received my fair share of emails exploring one alleged conspiracy or other… cruise missiles disguised as passenger planes, passenger planes fitted with the same technology that controls the SkyHawk drones used to assassinate suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan and Yemen. But I’m an isnad junkie who likes to trace these kind of emails back to their source – those claims about computer viruses that not even the best brains of Symantec, Norton and Microsoft put together can fix have taken their toll on me – and so most of my friends have learnt not email cynical Tim. Occasionally I revert to thinking that things may not be as they seem, but I’m generally no longer interested. And in any case, we believe in the Day of Judgement when all truth will be told.

When the massacre occurred in London last July, I managed to avoid the conspiracy theories for a whole week. Most of us had been saying for ages that it was only a matter of time before one of the crazies in our community did something like this. Indeed, after the Madrid train bombings I found that even I was looking at my fellow passengers suspiciously on my way to work. So when the explosions occurred last July, I desperately hoped it was the action of extreme Anarchists timed to coincide with the G8 Summit, but I somehow knew it wasn’t. I work in the National Health Service and, although I had moved out of London a month earlier, our organisation was put on standby for an evacuation of injured people as London hospitals filled up. The initial estimates of number of dead were scary, far outnumbering the eventual death toll. All normal work ceased as we went into emergency response mode.

For the days that followed I was extremely angry with the perpetrators. Selfishly my initial thoughts were around how I would have felt had it been my wife who had been cut to pieces. Selfishly my thoughts were about how until a month earlier, that shattered Edgware Road train took me to work every day. And selfishly my thoughts were about this spelling the end to Muslim life in Britain. At work uncomfortable comments were being made about Muslims all around me. But then somebody sent me a link to an article about Peter Powers’ walk-through of a simulated terrorist act which had bombs going off simultaneously at the same stations that had been targeted. It was not long before I was listening to ListenAgain on the BBC website, catching his comments on Radio 5 Live. Soon I was saying to my friends, “things may not be as they seem”. But probably they were. Thank goodness we believe in the Day of Judgement.

Perhaps conspiracy theories are convenient for us, helping us to avoid taking ourselves to account. Seeing a plot were there is none – almost to the point wherein the plotters are considered omnipotent – is considered preferable to putting our house in order. But, to be fair, there are some quite valid reasons why many of us chase after alleged conspiracies from time to time. It is not always tired anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as is often alleged. It may just be that we know the current state of our community too well. Al-Qaeda is seen as a ruthlessly efficient operation, but we know the state of our mosques whose members often cannot organise themselves well enough to clean the toilets properly. A key characteristic of Al-Qaeda operations is said to be the use of synchronised bombing, and yet we live in a community famed for its laxity around punctuality. So bad are we that lateness is the first non-sunnah a convert pick up when becoming Muslim. Sleeper cells are apparently able to launch operations on their own, and yet we have difficulties taking the initiative to clean the dishes left in the corner from iftar a year ago. I am being cynical, I know, but these are the kind of things that cross our minds every time we hear of these complex operations. But maybe this is just our ignorance.

There have been occasions when I would have been happy to believe in some of the conspiracy theories knocking around out there. The one-world-government new-world-order theory that makes much of George H. W. Bush’s speech on 11 September 1990 has its appeal: why get out of bed in the morning when you know that everything is being controlled by an all-powerful group of individuals. Unfortunately, although its origin lies in fundamentalist Christian eschatology, Muslims are buying into what is at root a nationalist ideology. With each act of barbarity that seems to be the work of Muslims, some sort of need to explain it away arises. Seeking out conspiracy theories is the easy response, but we are people of truth… and if we do not know where the truth lies, we rely on our Creator with who lays all truth. On that awesome day which will last fifty-thousand years, all truth will be made apparent. Thus in this age of confusion, we bide our time clinging to the Book of Allah and the way of Muhammad, peace be upon him. It is our only means of success.

Blessed are the Peace Makers

I am really quite tired of being bombarded with propaganda set on defining for me the realms of civilisation. We want “civil” in that word to refer to courtesy and politeness, but we know that it doesn’t. Instead, our dictionaries describe civilisation as an advanced stage or system of human social development. Of course, for us, politeness is a characteristic of advanced human social development, as is honesty, sincerity, kindness and generosity. Yet what it actually means in practice is something quite different. The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, uses it to describe that same group of nations which make up the G8. Thus that constant bombardment of ideas.

But I am troubled. Why are the civilised nations spending so much on weapons? The United States of America’s Department of Defence alone – excluding research, maintenance and production – had a budget of $437.111 Billion in 2004. While it is true that US expenditure accounts for only 4% of Gross Domestic Product, as compared to Saudi Arabia’s 10% as the world’s ninth largest spender, its 2005 military budget was still greater than the combined total of the next 27. Interestingly, the United Kingdom – tiny beside the US, China and Russia – spends almost as much as Japan and only slightly less than Russia and China: something like $50 billion. The joint expenditure of these self-described civilised nations is 57 times greater than the combined total of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria, and contributes to two thirds of the total expenditure of the entire planet. In the case of the US, these figures exclude their actions in Iraq and Afghanistan which are funded outside the Federal Budget.

Why are the civilised nations spending billions on killing machines, on developing the most hideous weapons ever conceived? Consider the BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed Commando Vault in Vietnam and Daisy Cutter in Afghanistan. This is a 15,000 pound bomb based on explosive sludge which is dropped from high altitude, producing a massive flash visible from long distances and intense boom on impact, destroying an area between 300 and 900 feet radius. Or consider Fuel-Air Explosives which disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion, causing high overpressure. And I am not even mentioning nuclear weapons. What kind of mind could conceive of such weapons, and what sort of nation would fund them?

Blessed are the peace makers, says the Bible, for they shall inherit the earth. A time comes when we must realise that the labels assigned by those around us are worthless. Spending $500 billion – even $50 billion – on a war machine is not indicative of advanced human social development. Far from it. Let the primitive nations rejoice. Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall inherit the earth.

Take the plank from your own eye

As most people who have been reading this web log for a while will have come to appreciate, I am not one to view the Muslim world through rose-tinted spectacles. Indeed I have never shied away from condemning the violence and depravity emerging from Muslim nations. I dislike the refrain that “The West” is to blame; those who study history and politics may see a shadow of truth in this, but the full picture is infinitely more complex. In any case, it is not really the traditional Muslim viewpoint. The Qur’an recounts the lessons of the Children of Israel – the Muslims of that age – precisely so that we may not repeat the mistakes of those who passed before us. But we do. I meet Muslims who consider themselves the Chosen People, who look upon others with contempt, considering their lives worthless like Gentiles deserving of whatever they get; meanwhile these Chosen Ones would never think to share their faith with them. Thus English Muslims like myself are not greeted with joy, but with suspicion and disbelief. But I digress.

This entry is a “But…” I agree that the Muslim world is awash with violence and depravity… But…
Yesterday I experimented with the Blogger search function, first typing in the word “Muslim” and then the word “Islam”. I cannot report that anything positive came back, at least amidst the first ten pages. All across the blogosphere people are writing about the barbarity of Islam; many of the US sites were also carrying a banner supporting a Democratic Iran – how considerate they are! Out there, Islam and Muslims are viewed with greater contempt than I could have imagined. Now some of this criticism is valid, but this is where the “but” comes in.

I came across a posting by a military man stationed at Pearl Harbour, USA, which argued that the “problem” is not with the extremists, but with Islam itself. It cited that horrific case where the so-called religious police prevented fifteen schoolgirls from escaping a burning school dormitory in Mecca because they were not “properly dressed”. Yes, you heard it; fifteen young girls burnt alive in 2002 because these imbeciles were worried that in fleeing their beds they would be wearing but pyjamas. The blogger’s opinion is that because Islam mandates a certain dress-code these people were correct according to their religion in preventing the children from escaping, which thus proves that Islam is a barbaric religion. Why then, if this were true, is a person facing starvation permitted to eat forbidden meat if nothing else is available?

Again, I do not deny that our house is far from being in order, but I have to object. The blogger calls Islam a barbaric, blood-thirsty and violent religion. I obviously do not believe that it is, although I do think that this description would suit some of our sick brethren. Yet this is where my “but” comes in. There is a vast amount of hypocrisy here which really irritates me. I suppose it irritates me more when it comes from those who passionately worship their nation, those who believe they stand at the pinnacle of civilisation. And there is hypocrisy.

Take this example: the accusation that we follow a barbaric, blood-thirsty and violent religion. You may not, but I see barbarism everywhere.

Which nation invented the nuclear bomb? It was not a Muslim nation. Which nation used the nuclear bomb, the combined death toll of which is estimated to range from 100,000 up to 220,000, of whom most were civilians? It was not a Muslim nation. Which nation created and deployed napalm (jellied gasoline) as a weapon of war, a substance formulated to burn at a specific rate and adhere to material and personnel? It was not a Muslim Nation (it was the Germans for the anti-Americans amongst you). Which nation has refused to ratify a United Nations convention banning its use against civilian targets? Which nation invented the vacuum bomb which causes its victim to implode from within when it is used? It was not a Muslim nation. Which nation undertook the extermination of up to six million Jews over a period of five years? It was not a Muslim nation. Which nation developed Botox and Anthrax as weapons of mass destruction? I could go on, but I won’t.

I see barbarism everywhere in this depraved age of ours. Muslim terrorists have hijacked and blown up civilian airliners, but so have Nationalists, Socialists and indeed States. In 1988 the US shot down an Iranian passenger jet killing all 290 people on board, while in 1983 the US accused the USSR of shooting down a Korean airliner, killing 269 people.

What can we say? Perhaps it is our mindset which is at fault, conditioned by the bloodiest century ever. What can be said of a race (the human race) which has turned killing into a form of entertainment? The Romans had their gladiators and we have Hollywood. We have got death and destruction down to a fine art: the subtle thriller about the lone murderer, the action packed adventure of one man verses the terrorists complete with buildings exploding and planes crashing, and the grim horror about the obsessed mass murderer. All in the name of entertainment.

The truth makes you weep. We live in a barbaric and deprave age. We see the kidnappings in Iraq today, but we recall the kidnappings of Afro-Americans in 1960s America. We see the beheadings of innocents today, but we recall the hangings and lynchings of innocents yesterday. We think of the bombs on the London tube system, but we remember the Omagh bombing as well. We lament the bombing of a mosque in Pakistan this week, but we remember the Oklahoma bombing a decade ago. We see Churches destroyed in Indonesia, but we recall the mosques demolished in Bosnia ten years ago. If we are honest, we see the depravity everywhere. If we remember, if we think deeply, we see the barbarity all over the place. All we can say is that we live in a barbaric and deprave age.

It is depressing, isn’t it?

So remember: we are not “all” killing each other. We are not all involved. There is light and love in the world. The Muslim doctor who will see you when you end up in casualty. The Christian nurse who will tend your scars. The aid workers to those in need. The man who makes sure his neighbour is well. Despite the depravity, there is still hope.

Remove the plank from your own eye and you might just see a little bit better.

Comments

A visitor to this site has asked me to comment on an article by one Mona Charen entitled, Stand up: Wafa Sultan is passing on a website called Townhall.com. This is a US website which prides itself on being an exchange for conservative thoughts and ideas. Charen worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison in the 1980s during the Reagan regime and is the author of two fairly well known books: How Liberals Got it Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First and Do-Gooders: How Liberals Harm Those They Claim to Help – and the Rest of Us. I am not quite sure why I have been asked to comment on this because 1) I am English, 2) I am not a media commentator and 3) the article in question does not relate to anything I have written about before. I am also not sure what kind of comments the visitor is expecting: are you interested in the author’s style, the author’s opinion, the subject of the article’s opinion or what? Anonymous just says, ‘Your comments would be appreciated…’

Okay, well my first comment would be, if you’re going to ask me to do something some common courtesy would be nice. What’s your name, where are you from, why do you want me to comment on this? Are you Muslim, are you a searching agnostic, are you a journalist on a mission of entrapment? But, okay, I know, it’s not going to happen; everyone loves anonymity. So on to the article…

Charen’s Opinion

Charen argues that Dr. Sultan, who describes herself as a secular human being, deserves deep respect for her heroic defence of Western civilisation. The title is derived from a scene in the film adaptation of that provocative novel, To Kill a Mockingbird:

‘..the little girl, Scout, who has been watching her lawyer/father plead for the life of a falsely accused black man in the old South, is exhorted by an elderly black spectator in the gallery to rise to her feet. “Your father is passing,” he explains.’

The author says she thought of that scene ‘after viewing a video of a woman who must be one of the bravest souls on earth.’ Apparently Dr Sultan took part in a debate with an Egyptian professor of Islamic Studies, broadcast on Al-Jazeera. Charen tells us that she agued that there is a clash ‘between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand, and the violation of those rights on the other hand…’ etcetera, etcetera.

I see great bravery all over the world. One brave soul was found by a BBC journalist sitting under a tree after the earthquake in Pakistan last year; she had lost every member of her family and her home, yet her words were filled with faith, to the extent that it was incomprehensible to that foreign correspondent. Those firemen who ran into the World Trade Centre buildings as they collapsed five years ago were incredibly brave souls. The children of Iraq and Palestine are also brave souls. The children who survived the massacres of Dunblane and Beslam are brave souls. Dr Sultan herself must have been brave to have moved on in life after men burst into her classroom and riddled her professor’s body with bullets in front of her while they shouted ‘God is Great’. And yes, she may well be brave for sitting in an Al-Jazeera studio, expressing views presumably contrary to those of her audience. The very fact that something involves bravery, however, does not always mean it is commendable. A suicide bomber must have to be extremely brave – or else intoxicated – to do what they do, but we would never say they deserve our respect.

This is the main argument of Charen’s article however. Apart from getting in a few ‘from the Muslim’s mouth’ jibes as a result of Dr Sultan’s views, she expends seven hundred words telling her conservative friends that the woman is brave and therefore demands their ‘awe and deep respect.’

Dr Sultan’s Opinion

As far as Dr Sultan’s opinions are concerned, I can only go on the basis of what is reported in Charen’s article as I have not heard the actual broadcast nor read its transcript. The author says she started by describing the struggle as one between “two opposites, between two eras,” a clash “between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights on the one hand, and the violation of those rights on the other hand.”

Out of context, there does not appear to be anything wrong with this, but I suspect that she means something very different from what I would mean. I am not a pacifist, but I am opposed to modern warfare. Thus I would describe the use of vacuum bombs, cluster bombs, cruise missiles, high-altitude bomber planes, chemical weapons and suicide bombs all as acts of barbarity. As an individual I have only ever hit another person once in my entire life and that one occurrence was an accident. The clash that I perceive is therefore not between ‘civilisations’ – if they even exist – but between ways of thinking.

Charen reports that the host asked Dr Sultan if her view was that ‘what is happening today is a clash between the culture of the West and the backwardness and ignorance of the Muslims?’ Dr Sultan apparently said that this is what she meant. According to the author she went on to say about the Jews and the Christians, ‘They are not the “People of the Book,” they are people of many books. All the useful scientific books that you have today are theirs, the fruit of their tree and creative thinking.’

I do not agree with this argument at all. She is framing the world as ‘us’ and ‘them’, but this is not a reflection of reality. This is the thesis which states that Muslims have not produced anything since the great age of science several hundred years ago, but this is not the case. The concept of ‘The West’ is a convenient category, but it is not a reality. There is no such thing as “the contribution of West”, for what we actually have are the contributions of individuals. Christians, Jews and Atheists have all produced useful scientific works, but so have Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. Travel down to Oxford and you will find leading neuroscientists who are Muslims. In my own circle of friends there is a Muslim who is designing algorithms to detect cancer tumours automatically through medical imaging, having completed his PhD on artificial intelligence; there is another working in genetics, who just so happens to be the son of a well known scholar of the Qur’an and Hadith. The contribution of Muslims to science is in fact vast, but it is not recognised by those who foster the artificial construct of “The West”.

Question

Why am I asked to comment on this article? Is it the latest attempt to provoke Muslims, to encourage us to react as some did to the Danish cartoons? Are we all meant to call for the woman’s head, to scream and shout, march and burn down embassies? Are we meant to act like animals so that the conservatives can say, ‘Look at those irrational Moslems – they do not deserve freedom and respect. Let us wage war in their lands.’ Charen began with a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird. Should we point out that it was people with views not very dissimilar to those expressed on that site that were lynching black people less than fifty years ago? In England we all read the novel in secondary school and some of us understood what it was about.

Radicalisation

It isn’t actually difficult to appreciate how radicalisation occurs. Last night I had the misfortune of deciding to watch the previous evening’s edition of Newsnight on the web and was thus bombarded with the disgusting images emerging from Abu Ghraib I had so far managed to avoid. In my case I found that the sense of frustration and powerlessness in the face of such inhumanity heightened my emotions so that in my mind I began to mull over how we should respond. Some of those ideas surprised me.

When my wife asked me to supplicate to our Lord after Isha on behalf of the victims, I was lost for words. I didn’t know what to pray. My wife told me that prayer is the weapon of believers, but the sense of despair blanked my mind. And I suppose this must be quite a common complaint amongst those of us who lack real knowledge. Against a backdrop of that sense of futility and despair, an action normally considered extreme might start to settle in the mind as the only viable alternative to doing nothing.

I believe I live a fairly sheltered existence given my deliberate abstention from television. I know the power of the moving image well as it grips you, etching itself on the mind. Having seen those images last night and checked my own reaction, it is not difficult to imagine the likely affect on a young man in a Muslim country constantly exposed to the drip-drip of brutality represented on his own TV channels. As for those who experience it first hand, I wonder how they could not react in the manner we all condemn; only those with the greatest faith could surely withstand the abuse perpetuated against them and their people.

Isn’t that sad; the voice said to exude sanity in a world of depravity has turned a corner. We really should fear where this new world order is leading us.

Vile

I have just read news on the BBC that three Indonesian Christian girls were beheaded as they walked to school – news buried under the frenzy surrounding David Blunket’s business dealings. What an utterly sick age we live in. Even as we anticipate it in our Prophet’s words, the depravity never fails to appall.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “Just before the Hour, there will be days in which knowledge will disappear and ignorance will appear, and there will be much killing.”

May we all be protected from such evil people, who will slaughter innocents in this way. Vile. Vile. Vile.

A life for a life

Apparently the loss of British life is only a tragedy if it is a means of scoring points against Islam. If ever we are unfortunate enough to mention our faith or to walk to the mosque for prayer, our socialist companions remind us that Muslims blew up three tube trains and a bus in London on 7 July. I point out that the leftist PKK blew up British citizens only a few days later; apparently this won’t be condemned with the same ferocity – instead they are silent. Much is being made of the bombings in the Turkish press for it suits their agendas like it does our companions’ – they suffer from selective sympathy and the inability to harbour equal sorrow for all victims of violence. In making their cheap political jibes they forget that Britons have experienced thirty years of terrorism at the hands of the IRA and that Londoners were the target of a white supremacist who planted nail bombs in the hope of sparking a race war much more recently. Were the lives of the victims of these attacks worth less because the perpetrators happened not to be Muslim? They also ignore the fact that July marked the sixtieth anniversary of nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the tenth anniversary of the slaughter of 10,000 Muslims in Srebrenica. Are Muslims peculiar amongst humanity as perpetrators of extreme violence? The answer is no of course; the last century and the beginning of the present one have been marked by extreme violence – wars on massive scales, the development of the most terrifying weapons ever conceived, the extermination of whole peoples, torture and terrorism. If the lives of all innocents killed in this chaotic madness are not considered to be of equal worth regardless of who they are or who killed them, we ourselves begin to slide into complicity. Our horror, sorrow and anger no longer stem from our reaction to the inhumanity of others, but from on whose side we are on. Let the Turkish chauvinists reflect.

Dignity

While we stood in the car park at midday, we saw the real display of dignity. A Muslim taxi driver had stopped his car just as he exited the round about, got out and was standing with his head bowed next to the door in the middle of the road. There he remained for the next two minutes as cars worked around him. An island amidst the chaos.

In defiance or indifference?

We observed the two minutes’ silence today collectively as an organization, standing in the blazing sun in the car park. I feel sad and distant from my colleagues at the moment. They talk about these event momentarily, but the happy, jolly mood prevails, as if nothing has happened of significance. I hated some of these people as they stood out in the car park, laughing and joking merrily until the clock struck twelve. Two minutes without words, though all the cars but one continued their journeys onwards. No sooner were the two minutes up, however, and a bunch of fools burst into laughter, the usual suspects with their self-centred nonsense. I returned inside in silence, lamenting the hideous hypocrisy. For the past week I have been wandering around, fearing that our time is up in this country. That we have reached the end of the road. The Reichstag has been torched, thus the pogroms begin. But looking around me, I doubt this now. These people are indifferent in extremis. Like my journey in East London two days after the bombings, the people did not look sad; quite the contrary, it was business as usual, smiles on a thousand faces. Journalists are calling it defiance; I would call it something else.

Grammar

My wife is stranded in London, so she’s gone to wait with a friend. She has an appointment in the morning so she can’t stay overnight. I leave home at 8.30, clear roads all the way, from this hilly valley to those towers of concrete. Indoors we’re all glued to our TVs. Few cars pass me all the way. I arrive at 9.20 just in time for Maghrib, gliding through the ghost town. I tell my friend I’m disgusted by all this – I say I know our thoughts should be with the victims, but I can’t help praying that the perpetrators are anarchists or something. My friend says they are – but he is using it as an adjective. I want it to be the noun.

Distraction

Work goes on. I’m asked to attend a meeting in the afternoon. We’re discussing the implementation of Choose and Book in our GP Practices. I’m with them at first, but my mind begins to wander. I am sitting at the back of that now mangled bus. I’m on my way to work, minding my own business, lost in my own world. There’s a bag left underneath my seat. I look to my left and right, I assume it belongs to one of my fellow passengers, but I don’t ask them. Perhaps they’re wondering the same thing. But we all mind our own business; we always do. I’m not in my meeting now. They’re speaking but I don’t hear them. I’m in that bus and it suddenly explodes and what is the end for me? I feel sick. I can see those poor souls as their bodies are torn to shreds by a bomb beneath the seat. Their last moment gone before they could even see it coming. The shock jolts me back to my meeting. I was supposed to be taking notes, I’ve missed the conversation, it has passed me by. Did the people who did this never visualize that moment as I did in my meeting? Did they never imagine that when they planted their bombs? Could they have done this if they had? I feel like I’m going to be sick, but I block it from my mind. Back to Choose and Book. When we leave the room we are told that we have been officially stood down. Crisis over. But I still feel sick.