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.

I confess to have lived many years of my life afraid of the opinions of others. If, when out in public, I encounter a group of people laughing amongst themselves, a little voice from within whispers: “They’re laughing at you”; it is my big nose, my skinny frame, my voice, my slouch or my love of stripy jumpers. It could be any of these, or none of them. It could be something that happened a moment ago, a joke amongst friends, inebriation, happiness or insecurity. In these times, at this age, those are the more magnanimous sentiments with which I reply to those paranoid inner voices. Perhaps nerds, as we are considered, will forever be a laughingstock, but you can’t live your life under that spell. A time comes when you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, not that you don’t care, but that you can’t look into the hearts of others.

Wandering amidst the Muslim community, I see a mirror of that lethargic, nervous paranoia constantly. It comes alive in grand conspiracies, so commonly held that you begin to believe them: the black and white narrative of a binary world of good and evil. It is them against us: the schools inspectorate is conducting a witch hunt; child protection has an agenda; the extremists overseas are a CIA black-op; the worldwide media is controlled by our enemies. There is no nuance: no appreciation of complexities, no ability to see how the world is shaped for others. We are like that glum adolescent, struggling to understand his place in the world.

And so it has all become true: the hateful neighbour has contempt for you because you wear hijab. Your customers look at you suspiciously because you have a beard. That ignorant white man blanks you because he despises Muslims. Some driver cut you up on the motorway because he saw everyone in the car was wearing a headscarf. Your friends have stopped talking to you because you’ve started wearing niqab. Yes, everybody hates you.

Or could it be that you have simply convinced yourself that this is the case? Could it be that the hateful neighbour treats everyone like that: that his unaddressed rage causes him to lash out at everybody? Could it be that your customers are just trying to make eye contact so they can ask you a question? Could it be that the shy white man thinks he should lower his gaze in your company? Could it be that the driver has been cutting people up all afternoon? Could it be that your friends have stopped talking to you because they’re not quite sure how to behave in your presence any more? Could there be another explanation?

Over the past two decades, as a white man not presumed to be Muslim, my lowered gaze in the presence of Muslim women has repeatedly been interpreted as hatred of Muslims. I will be the first to admit that, socially inept as I am, I have trouble striking a balance between acknowledging someone respectfully and ignoring their existence. A lowered gaze, as I understand it, sits somewhere between the two, but it is an imprecise science, broadly interpreted through culture, learning and emotional state of mind. Hence my infamous convoluted detours around Sainsbury’s to avoid a hijab-wearing member of staff in whose presence I may once have played the role of excessively polite, presumably non-Muslim white man, demonstrating that not everybody hates Muslims. Lower your gaze too much and you are a rude, impertinent brute; lower your gaze too little and before you know it, it will be the talk of the town.

Assumptions and presumptions are killing our ability to interact with others. Fostered on a social media which frames the non-Muslim world as universally hostile to Muslims, we wander into public with unfounded fears that cause us to find negative explanations for each and every interaction. On one front we become unsympathetic to the feelings of others: we are oblivious to depression, money problems, marital strife, period pains, stress, grieving, illness or any other of a multitude of factors that could account for the particular reaction we received from a stranger one day. On another front we are feeding our own demise, setting up self-fulfilling prophecies, that will only serve to drag us down.

Instead of bringing to life prophetic sunnahs in our own lives — treat others as you’d wish to be treated, forgive him who wrongs you, answer a bad deed with a good deed — we set up false dichotomies. We answer perceived rudeness with rudeness. We respond to perceived wrongs with retribution. We answer a bad deed with another bad deed. And soon our news feeds brim with a sense of entitlement and victimisation. We cannot see each other as humans, each with our own conditions: we are just two tribes, mutually incomprehensible to the other.

Part of growing up is learning to let go of the self-centred ego. The bitter negativity which characterised my younger days was like superglue, thwarting my ability to move forward. The world had a problem with me, I told myself, judging the entire world around me. But of course it was not like that at all. There were aspects of myself which I needed (and still need) to change. But more than that, I needed to recognise that others were as complicated, compromised, confused and anxious as I was. I had to abandon a part of myself, in order to appreciate others more. As a community we need to do the same. This anxious bitterness which characterises our interactions with each other and the outside world is in fact a disease of the heart.

As men and women, there’s only one heart we have been given the ability to read, and that is our own. As that beloved refrain of mine goes: between my soul and God stand my heart and my deeds; nothing else stands between us. The time must have come to turn away from trying to read the intentions of others, towards purifying our own intentions and to act as ambassadors for all that is good and virtuous. Without a doubt there are some who mean you harm; that might be your ticket to the heights of paradise. Without a doubt, there are some who will not respond to kindness with kindness. But know that the world does not stand against you. Treat everybody you meet as an individual, with their own shortcomings, just like your own. Transact with them in the best of ways. Overlook their shortcomings; make excuses for their state of mind.

For, one day, we will stand before the One who truly reads all hearts, and then all truth will be known.

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.

Nous sommes des hypocrites

More on the Freedom of Expression debacle: France arrests a comedian for his Facebook comments, showing the sham of the West’s “Free Speech” celebration – by Glenn Greenwald

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.