Dev in paradise

A decade ago, I was a fan of buffoonish crime drama, Death in Paradise, set on the fictional Caribbean island of Saint Marie. Initially, there was something quite quaint about a stiff-upper-lip British detective being dispatched to a paradise island to investigate a murder. The detective in question was played by actor Ben Miller, and so his character was easily embraced with affection. But, in truth, it was a show that should have died a death long ago.

Continue reading “Dev in paradise”

The misunderstood

For the past several weeks in our household, weekend evenings have been spent watching the touching Turkish drama, Yunus Emre, on Netflix. It has become something of a family affair, to be keenly anticipated throughout the week. Some nights we watched episodes back to back for hours on end, hooked on the quaint storytelling. In the past week we finished the final episode, and now we mourn its passing. Continue reading “The misunderstood”

Investigate

As I was praying Isha salah last night, these words flurried across my mind:

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” — Qur’an 49:6

And with that I began to ponder all that has apparently come to pass over the past week. A hundred what ifs and so many unknowns. I could pull together a multitude of threads, pulling together what might be happening. It nearly drove me to silence. It may yet.

Spinning yarn

I see that reporting what another newspaper wrote is now considered journalism. I’ve read virtually identical reports in every major news outlet across the political spectrum, which all state the one known fact so far: that The Times newspaper published a story. The veracity of the story is not for discussion, as clearly everyone’s news desk is on holiday, eeking out the last days of summer.

Permission to grieve

I hate that we fly into a rage only when we are told to do so… that the whirlwind of sympathy and condemnation only occurs when the critical mass of sentiment drives us to take a stance… until then we must look the other way, or pretend not to notice horrific evil and our own double standards.

So Saudi Arabia and its allies may kill thousands of civilians indiscriminately in Yemen, but it is none of our business: no need to take a stance. They may kill hundreds in a single night, or destroy a hospital, or a block of flats… but we will not seethe and ache, and post news item after news item to our social media pages, and demand reprieve for some of the poorest people on earth.

There will be no wall to wall coverage of these victims of this aggressor. At least not until we are instructed to sit up and take note: when that happens, then we will bang our drums and wail out loud: then we will become enraged. But until then, let’s pretend not to have noticed. Let’s look the other way.

We await the next political crisis, media storm or social media frenzy with baited breath.

Finding our voice

I fear we protest too much, self-centred as we are. In the wake of Parliament’s vote to permit military action in Syria, BBC Question Time invited Maajid Nawaz to join the panel along with Nicky Morgan, Diane Abbott, Caroline Lucas and Jill Kirby. The inclusion of Mister Nawaz prompted immediate consternation online: “Couldn’t the BBC find another Muslim voice?” protested one of our many vocal activists.

I instantly wondered what it must be like to be a Sikh or Hindu living in Britain today, or to be of Chinese or East European heritage. Where are their voices in the clamour for representation?

Over the past year and beyond, Question Time has featured numerous Muslim contributors on its panels. Two weeks ago, for the second time this year, the journalist and commentator Medhi Hassan sat on the panel. Other Muslim voices over the past year have included the politicians Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh and Humza Yousaf. Others of Muslim heritage, who do not actively subscribe to religion in their personal lives have also contributed to the programme.

Now the contributors may not be our kind of Muslim — whatever that means — but individuals of Muslim heritage appearing in 25% of all episodes or making up 5% of all panellists is pretty good representation for a group (if we insist on identifying people purely by religion) that makes up just 4.5% of the UK population. By contrast, there are many other minority groups under-represented and consistently absent in the make-up of Question Time panels.

There is of course a hierarchy of people we really do not like representing us — the likes of Maajid Nawaz, Anjem Choudary and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown most frequently lamented — but the daily reading of the morose Muslim presence on Social Media reveals constant dissatisfaction with any kind of representation. No matter who speaks up, others will be quick to point out that they are the wrong kind of Muslim, or that they do not represent the mainstream, or that they are excluding other voices. Each of us demands that only our voice or interpretation or narrow sectarian viewpoint or political perspective deserves attention, and everything else is condemned.

We protest an awful lot for a community so divided. The truth of the matter is that we each represent ourselves. Religion plays an important part in some of our identities; for others ethnicity, class or political affiliation is more important, or not important at all. For some a love of baking, motherhood, football or mountain climbing is the overarching marker of social belonging. And even for the self-described religious, various sectarian affiliations or philosophical leanings take precedence over a simplistic unified whole.

One of the beauties of maintaining an unpopular blog, rarely read, is that it enables one to represent not the world or a whole religion or community, but personal thoughts, beliefs and sentiments. Within our community are those — of all sorts of persuasions — quick to judge others as heretics and write off their contributions without even first investigating their ideas. We do enjoy to listen to yes men, who reflect our own prejudices and views precisely. We’re not so keen on voices which challenge us and nudge us out of our comfort zones.

In my frequent forays online amongst Muslim activists, both political and apolitical, Traditionalist and Salafi, I frequently regret that I find I have little in common with my compatriots in faith. Perhaps I am too much a cynic, or reside too much on the periphery, to ever see the world through populist eyes. But that’s absolutely fine; it’s as it should be. Blind group think will lead us to disaster.

Bemoan the inclusion of an opposing voice if you must. Bewail those who do not represent you. Weep in sorrow at the amplification of extremist voices on the Left and Right. Petition those who seek to silence the voice of reason, or the voice of puritanical zeal, or of presumed orthodoxy. Protests as much as your like.

Just know that the only person who can truly represent you is you. So speak if you must.

Manufactured schisms

Religious groups are just as capable of engaging in cunning marketing schemes as commercial organisations (if, indeed, such a distinction exists).

The mere mention of a banned video with a traditional religious message in the run up to Christmas was guaranteed to be splashed all over the press in a frenzy of head-shaking disbelief in no time.

What we have seen over the past few days is merely a more sophisticated version of the tried and tested viral marketing campaigns employed by all kinds of religious and political groups daily on social media.

Step one: make an almighty fuss about something nobody would have otherwise known about. Step two: sit back and relax as it goes viral in a self-perpetuating cycle of manufactured hurt, offence and counter-offence.

Give your PR company a raise.

Confirmation bias

Keep in mind that on Social Media we are afflicted with amplified Confirmation Bias.

Most of us would agree that it is unhealthy to read only the Telegraph, Times, Daily Mail or Guardian, for each of these partisan newspapers will only reconfirm the readers’ own political views. A feedback loop is created in which the source and the audience feed off each other.

Yet on Social Media we do just that: we surround ourselves with people with similar views, who echo and mirror our own sentiments ad nauseam, setting in motion an even bigger feedback loop, which creates a distorted picture of the outside world.

We subscribe to news feeds which we believe represent our interests, but which instead channel the world through selective filters. The simple act of Sharing and Liking another’s post, picture, video or article creates viral avalanches the power of which can never be diminished, no matter how hard the voice of reason tries.

Meanwhile, largely unbeknownst to us, complex algorithms designed to sell advertising work away in the background to serve up targeted news and products determined to appeal to us.

In short, Social Media creates a version of reality which only confirms our own fears, prejudices and beliefs correct. We prioritise information that confirm our biases and ignore everything else.

A trip outside, a conversation with neighbours, a walk in the wild, a moment’s meditation, a few hours volunteering or a day without the ever-present smartphone might break the infinity loop of despair. I suggest we try it.

Public gaze

Has nobody seen the vast number of posts on the internet from women complaining about men taking surreptitious photos of them in public places without permission?

Why is it that nobody has bothered to ask if it was okay to share the now famous photo of a Muslim woman on the Basingstoke train, taken secretly as she snoozed?

Too late: it has now been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, shared thousands of times and republished repeatedly by media corporations and bloggers alike over the past 24 hours. It has now been cached on so many servers that it will never disappear from an internet image search, like that poor young artist in the red hijab.

The man who took the photo has been hailed as a hero: a champion of decency and tolerance. Nowhere has anybody asked for the woman in the photo to represent herself or provide consent to be seen by thousands without as much as a lowered gaze.

If that was you, or your sister, or your wife, or your mother, would you allow that photo to be shared ad infinitum by tens of thousands of strangers, just because the person who took it claimed to be your saviour?

What has happened to our ability to probe and ponder, and not just follow the crowd without a second’s pause or moment of thought?

Woman on a train

Woman sitting on a train. Man sits down opposite her. He takes a photo of her on his phone, without permission. He tells everyone on Facebook what a hero he was. Forty-four thousand people give him thumbs up. Four thousand share his post. The Sun, Daily Mail, Express Tribune and obscure newspaper in far-flung backwater make room for the tale in their pages.

Don’t be so judgemental we’re told. But who’s judging hearts here? Who’s to say the other passengers were ostracising her? Who’s to say they weren’t respectfully giving her space? Or just hadn’t even noticed she was there?

Interesting fact: I’ve moved amongst Muslims for 20 years, but I often don’t know how to behave around Muslim women even now. That’s because they’re individuals. Everyone has different expectations. For some, the hijab and the niqab are barriers of sorts. For others they’re just items of clothing.

Try as you may, you will invariably exhibit the wrong behaviour around just about anybody, despite the best of intentions. Suffice to say, I’ve done and seen it all. I have been judged “hater of Muslims” because I lowered my gaze too much or too consistently in the presence of hijab and niqab wearing women. But I have also been judged disrespectful of culture, of those unspoken rules and ambiguous expectations when a host or a guest, when greetings exchanged are almost a sin or when to emerge from banishment in another room is an unholy affront.

In our mosques we consign women to a separate prayer hall, in our homes we ask male and female guests to sit in separate rooms, in our lectures we make women sit at the back of the room or behind a screen… and yet we claim not to understand why non-Muslims might be confused how to behave around us.

How should one react in the presence of another? It all depends on the individual. Perhaps we’re all guilty of over-thinking things: perhaps we just have to be ourselves and behave as we see fit, not as we believe we’re expected to. Perhaps some of us are too worried about causing offence, or crossing an undefined line in the sand. Perhaps we should just sit down, or say hello, or acknowledge the other in our midst.

I have no idea if the woman on the train felt ostracised that morning. Perhaps she was just grateful to find a seat and catch a few winks of sleep. Perhaps she was grateful not to be jammed between an overweight businessman reading the Metro and an uncouth youth with his iPod blasting out tunes too loud for a change. Perhaps she was thinking nothing at all.

Of one thing I’m pretty certain though: she didn’t expect to have her photo taken as she snoozed on her way to college, to be shared en masse with millions of strangers worldwide. The young man with the camera phone may have been a hero momentarily: perhaps the unknown passenger felt momentarily relieved, her loneliness assuaged, by the random act of kindness of a stranger in her midst. Perhaps. But does she feel that way now, or does she just feel that her private space has been invaded by a speculative drifter, presuming to speak on her behalf?

None of us can read the hearts of others: to see what others think, to understand their decisions, to judge their intentions. There are appearances and there is reality. It’s best that we don’t confuse the two.

Balanced voices

I often wish I had access to balanced coverage of Turkish politics. The combination of the anti-government rhetoric of my largely Left-leaning Turkish family and the pro-opposition narrative of the British Press provides a wholly unsatisfactory picture.

This is not the lament of an AKP supporter — I’m not one by any means. I acknowledge that they have done great things for their country, but they also have many shortcomings. As an outsider, many of their actions perplex me. No, this is not the lament of an ardent supporter protesting bias; it is just an ode to balance.

turkeyThe way Turkish politics are reported in Britain, you’d think the leftist HDP obtained the majority vote in the June elections or that they are a dominant force in Turkish politics. But of course the truth is that the ruling AKP obtained 41% of votes, followed by the secularist CHP with 25%. The HDP, by contrast received just 13% of the votes, however significant that may be in their own terms.

I have no idea how November’s elections will play out. One thing is certain though: the British press will continue to ignore the majority who vote for either the AKP or CHP. It is as if only 10% of the electorate matter to Britain’s divisive journalists.

Priorities

So today, in another test of our ability to read the news without taking offence, our activists are alarmed that Great British Bake Off winner, Nadiya Hussain, was dropped from the front page of the Daily Mail. For three years in a row, it is claimed, the paper ran stories about the winner on their front page, but this year when it was won by a hijab wearing Muslim woman the story was relegated to page 7. It is a clear case of bigotry.

nadiyaNow I detest the Daily Mail — claims about bigotry are hardly exaggerated — but this latest wailing lament is just daft. Here are some observable facts:

1. They didn’t run GBBO “stories” on their front page — they just had a photo of the winner and a headline.

2. In the Scottish edition of the paper, they did feature “the Nadinator” on their front page.

3. In their English edition, in the photo slot usually reserved for Bake Off winners, they featured the mourning wife and children of the murdered Police Officer Dave Philips.

4. They published a 5000+ word spread about Nadiya inside their paper from page 7.

5. The article about last year’s winner was also “relegated” to page 7.

6. By my count the Daily Mail has published at least 15 articles about Nadiya over the past two weeks.

There are many unreported stories we should lament, but this really isn’t one of them. The Daily Mail is a newspaper largely devoted to celebrity gossip, scandals, sport, dresses and lingerie, and Islamic Extremism. It is not a serious newspaper by any measure. Its primary objective is to sell and make its investors wealthy — hence the proliferation of photos of under-dressed famous people and lurid click-bate headlines. Nadiya, as it happens, also sells — 14 million people tuned in to watch the Great British Bake Off final on Wednesday; with millions of viewers rooting for her, it would hardly be sensible to ignore the story.

If Nadiya’s success teaches us anything — though I am wary of the spectacle of groups claiming her, as if her hijab, ethnicity or religion is all there is to her — it is that we need to make the most of our gifts and cheerfully strive to accomplish our goals irregardless of the obstacles placed in our way. In short, to be nice, good people, just getting on with things. Our activists still have much to learn.

Trolls

It’s a hard life working as newspaper comments troll, having to constantly come up with preposterous put downs, clothe ever more extreme racism as rational argument and maintain a steady supply of bile and venom without pause. Thank goodness we have innocent victims on whom we can hone our skills. Wouldn’t it be terrible if people were allowed to celebrate success, without being reminded that they are the source of all that is wrong with the country and the world? Thank goodness we have selfless trolls always on hand to fight the good fight at every hour of night and day, lest anyone forget to be spiteful or erroneously say something positive or kind. Three cheers for the trolls!

Reading hearts

As a community we need to stop pretending that we can see into the hearts of others, for it is damaging our mental health and preventing us from contributing positively to society. Our sense of victimhood is exaggerated when every event that effects us is viewed though the prism of understanding that is, “It’s because I’m Muslim”. Witness the defeatist threads on social media, in which every misdemeanour of the other is amplified as further evidence that they’re all out to get us. Of course, if you perpetually reside on the comment pages of The Guardian and Telegraph websites amidst the trolls and haters, you will naturally conclude that everybody in the world hates you. But to step outside, carrying those sentiments with you, is to become judge and jury on the intentions of others.

Continue reading “Reading hearts”

Personal tragedies

Every murder is a tragedy, but the reality is that most murders are not widely reported.

Last year there were over 500 murders in UK and close to 2000 in the United States. Most were not known by you or I.

Those who seek to make political capital out of events should familiarise themselves with these facts.

Already there is a great clamour: why is the Media not making what has happened front-page news? Once more activists have their broad brushes out and are playing the victim-card.

But the true victims here are the deceased. The rest of us are mere onlookers. Please don’t exploit this incident.

Dissent

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

Weathering the storm

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

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

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

In the heart of Europe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blood and gore

Dear amateur forensic criminologists,

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

Yours sincerely.

Tragedy made real

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

Fasting

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

Choosing our battles

On 10 July 2013, two days after 51 demonstrators were killed and another 435 were injured in protests against the military coup in Egypt, Charlie Hebdo published a front cover showing an Egyptian Muslim dying in a hail of bullets, despite holding a copy of the Qur’an to his chest. Yes, that was the punch line: his religion could do nothing to save him from his fate (as the provocative caption made clear).

Call me a cynic, but I suspect that if a satirist had published a cartoon mocking the victims of Wednesday’s atrocity the following day, there would have been an outcry and widespread condemnation. And rightly so.

For all the regurgitation of words the grossly anti-Semitic Voltaire did not actually utter – “I may not agree with you, but defend your right to say it” – it all seems to be a rather vacuous platitude, for where was this vast outpouring of solidarity for those Egyptians massacred while exercising their curtailed right to freedom of expression in the face of a military coup?

Far from defending their right to say what we did not agree with, Europe’s bravest satirical magazine published a cartoon lampooning the dead, while our esteemed former prime minister decided to stand shoulder to shoulder with the General.

The truth is, nobody really believes in those words wrongly attributed to Voltaire. We choose when to defend free speech and when to curtail it. And if fifty people are massacred whilst defending beliefs we dislike, it is no business of ours – though we retain the right to laugh at them if we so choose.

Everybody decries the killing of innocents – what occurred on Wednesday has been rightly condemned – but there is no need to lionise the satirists as defenders of free speech, to celebrate their vulgar work. They chose when to defend it and when to mock those who died fighting for theirs.

News

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

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

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

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

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

Speak Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Untruths

In Europe, we have Freedom of Expression within the law.

That is why Maurice Sinet was sacked by Charlie Hebdo for an allegedly anti-Semitic column and charged with inciting racial hatred.

In France, racial insults in public are punishable by up to six months in prison and fines of up to €25,000.

But we’re not meant to talk about that.

Timing

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom of Expression

The way British journalists talk about Freedom of Expression, you’d think they had never picked up a book on Publishing Law. The copy on my bookshelf lists a vast range of exclusions, though perhaps even the author could not have forseen the broad restrictions added in the decade and a half since publication. In Britain, as in much of Europe, we have conditional freedom of expression.

Tinderbox

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

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

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

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

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

A Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20-year rule

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

Black Flags

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

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

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

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

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

Witnesses to truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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