Baloney

Once more, Muslims share via WhatsApp apparently profound insights, oblivious to their origin on nationalist forums filled with threads decrying Islam and brown people. It turns out that were it not for mutual hatred, most of these folk would get on like a house on fire. Apart from the superficial contempt for each other’s way of life, it turns out the two parties agree on most things and have more than a little in common. If only the nationalist forum would tone down the threads on the Islamification of Europe, Trump’s progress, the death of London and the martyrdom of Tommy Robinson, the chattering classes that teem Muslim social media would signup en masse and embrace them. Never mind that those apparently profound insights are in fact trite reductionist baloney, lacking any real substance at all.

Gory videos

Seen a gory video on social media and feeling enraged?

Stop. Pause. Breathe. Ask yourself some questions:

  1. Is it real? Are you sure it’s not street theatre, a clip from a film, an old TV advert, a video-game capture or manufactured propaganda?
  2. Is it new? Wasn’t the same clip making the rounds two years ago too, framed in the context of a previous conflict or crisis?
  3. Is it related? See #2 above. Are you sure it shows what people are claiming it shows?

If in doubt, screen capture the offending video and then run it through a reverse image search, such as those provided by Tineye, Bing and Yandex. More often than not, you will discover that all is not as it first seemed. Which brings us to point number 4:

  • What is the benefit of forwarding this on? Or conversely, what harm will it cause?

Forwarded as received

They rail against the fabled mainstream media. But then forward me articles from the Daily Mail. They say social media has freed the masses from submitting to the MSM propaganda machine and believing its lies. But then they forward me YouTube videos that are pure make-believe. They chorus to the refrain, “It’s Islamphobia, it’s Islamophobia”. Then rejoice in an article published by supporters of the hard right. Continue reading “Forwarded as received”

The folly of alt-reality

Ho hum, yet another video claiming to reveal The Truth™ is doing the rounds. This one an interview by London Real — a cultish conspirituality self-help movement, formerly purveyor of pyramid schemes — with Dr Andrew Kaufman, “unmasking the lies around Covid-19”.

It turns out this Dr Andrew Kaufman is a big hitter in the alternative media alternative reality, giving interviews with Truthers all over the place. His present claim to fame is that as a medical doctor, he rejects the germ theory of disease, postulating that contagious diseases are not contagious. This claim alone makes him a celebrity in the alt-reality realm, where his bravery and honesty is lauded by men, women and bots seeking evidence to confirm their conclusions. Continue reading “The folly of alt-reality”

Scaremongering

This afternoon, my companion received a video via WhatsApp, forwarded onto her by a friend. This is worrying, she said, passing it onto me to investigate.

The video featured a professional-looking man speaking to camera, a computer workstation by his side. He could have been a doctor, union rep or legal advisor. He starts with a smile and friendly greeting, but then immediately begins: “Today we’re going to talk about our rights when it comes to having a mandatory vaccine.” Continue reading “Scaremongering”

Hoax

Friends are forwarding to me — over and over — articles which claim to prove that the coronavirus crisis is a hoax. Once more, Global Research, Prison Planet and Peter Hitchens are taken as voices of authority. Once more, the approach of the fabled Anti-Christ is cited, bringing with him a dystopian dajjalic system imposed worldwide. Mistranslated scientists, wielding spurious and patently out-of-date statistics, completely overtaken by events, are held up as proof that it is all a storm in a tea cup, designed to deprive us of our liberty and herald a new world order. Continue reading “Hoax”

Before sleep took me

What responsibility does the sheikh have to those that listen to him? All across the web — on YouTube, Facebook and numerous blogs — ordinary folk celebrate the impressive insight of the learned one. Beneath repackaged lectures on YouTube, hundreds of people respond in awe, amazed by a hadith narrated by the sage, so detailed and accurate in its depiction of future events. It is the truth, the people declare, revelling in the apparent wealth of their tradition. Continue reading “Before sleep took me”

Added gunfire

This morning, a friend sent me an extremely harrowing video via WhatsApp, which appeared to show Chinese police systematically shooting dead victims of Coronavirus COVID19. A copy of this very upsetting video can also be found on YouTube here and here (discretion advised).

Of course, me being me — having spent my early years as a Muslim absorbed in the so-called science of hadith — I had to investigate. Not least because China built a brand-new hospital to treat patients in just two weeks. And so that is how I spent my lunch break.

It turns out that the video forwarded onto me via WhatsApp is at least three separate incidents spliced together. It took quite a while to track down the source videos, but eventually I found them after a lot of searching, including using reverse image search on screenshots I’d captured from the viral video.

I found the clip in the first half — where three policemen in protective clothing are seen walking from their car — on Twitter. The original caption for the video said an unknown person entered the community with a pistol and a semi-automatic weapon, and this was the police response. Further comments claim that the video was filmed in Sichuan on 27th January, when police in protective suits captured a killer who had been on the run for 19 years.

There is a version of the third clip — with the lady in the pink jacket and medics attending to patients — on Twitter. This is captioned in Chinese; from dismissive comments underneath, it seems to promote the shooting claims. The original video is wide angle, not filmed portrait as shown in the viral video, so is definitely not part of the same sequence. The bangs in the background are real, but I can’t tell whether they’re fire crackers or gunfire.

I found the video clip with the woman in the yellow jacket lying dead on the ground on Turkish news website, Yeni Akit. The website says Chinese police killed one person who tried to break through quarantine. Note that in the original (still distressing) video, there is no sporadic gunfire in the background. Somebody has added this afterwards.

What is really happening in China, God knows. Allahu’Alam. One thing I am certain of is that splicing unrelated videos together and then adding gunfire to the soundtrack amounts to bearing false witness, at best. “O you who have believed, if there comes to you information, investigate…”

“pls make this video viral”

Just received via WhatsApp, a video clip and this text:

An Israeli police man strangles a palestinian Child to death on saturday during the protest of US embassy move to the Jerusalem. The innocent boy even read Kalima e shahadat before dying. Despite many attempts by groups to upload this video to the Youtube, its been consistently removed and deleted from google, Facebook and youtube. pls make this video viral so that it reaches all the media.

Naturally, I won’t participate in making the video viral, despite the seemingly urgent request. Why? Because it’s simply not what it says it is. Continue reading ““pls make this video viral””

Locusts

Something biblical is afoot. It’s a sign of the times. It heralds the imminent arrival of the dajjal. It’s divine punishment for the Saudi war on the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s a curse on the House of Saud for their devastating war in Yemen. It is a warning to the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites to return to authentic, traditional Sunni Islam™ or else be afflicted by the ten plagues of Egypt.

In short, it is whatever you want it to be, when you take the copywriter’s spin at face value. “Swarms of locusts invade Mecca, for the first time in history,” reads the viral message landing in WhatsApp, forwarded by both the learned and wise, and the village idiot.  Continue reading “Locusts”

Sheikh of the interwebs

Sheikh of the interwebs has a following to propagate; twenty-two thousand and rising (he’s small-fry today, but tomorrow the world). A populist controversy daily keeps the disciples coming back for more: he’s a champion of the new voiceless, an advocate for forgotten reactionaries. Social media is manna from heaven: the glue that holds together a career giving lectures and writing articles, pending the advent of a proper job. To rest on your laurels is suicide: fail to cultivate your following on social media and you are nobody. A nobody with no influence; what a horrible thought, when there is just so much to say.

Ah, but listen for the sound of silence. There goes the sheikh with his minuscule following far from these virtual worlds, who shuns controversy, but nevertheless speaks the truth to the populist masses. Perhaps there is one we could learn from, as he toils by day in honest employment, and teaches at night to a humble circle of gentle friends. May God preserve us from the groupies and vast followings that teem on the interwebs, from being led awry and from leading others astray. May God preserve us from the lust for fame that this medium nurtures, from the pursuit of likes and mentions, retweets and shares, from seeking out a multitude of fans, who hang on our every word, whether we speak the truth or not. May God preserve us from the new sheikhs of the interwebs, and from the worst of ourselves.

These amalgamations

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

Organ donation

The following post is currently being circulated on social media:

A reminder to all, residents in the UK are now automatically on the organ donation register. If you don’t Opt Out your organs and tissue are now the property of the UK government after death. You can easily opt out for yourself and family members using the link below, it takes about 1 minute. [link] It is *NOT* permissible for us to donate our organs.

My immediate thought, on reading this, was: why is it not permissible for us to donate our organs after our death? Do we need them as we lie in our graves? Continue reading “Organ donation”

Gaudy palaces

I’m no fan of gaudy palaces filled with gold leaf and French furniture, nor of the politicians who reside in them, but why do people have lie and fabricate for added effect?

The caption of this Facebook post mockingly reads, “In service of the nation” — in juxtaposition to the President and his family enjoying an apparently lavish lifestyle of high fashion and luxurious surroundings. Continue reading “Gaudy palaces”

“Kez paylaş”

The image below, shared on social media by friends, demands that we recognise and share what is happening in Myanmar, for the sake of Allah. The text is attributed to Cübbeli Ahmet Hoca, who is a popular imam in Turkey. After mentioning the tyranny faced by the people of Arakan (Rakhine State), the text roughly reads:

“We are collecting Yasin-i sherif. I can not do anything, I stand there with prayer, send DUA, read Dua Halkasina and share in your prayer circles.”

I believe the words “1 Kez payla?” superimposed on the image means “Share once”.  So far, so good. Continue reading ““Kez paylaş””

Viral vigilantes

Is it ethical to share on social media a photo of an alleged attacker without first verifying the facts?

And is this habit Shariah-compliant with regards to the manners of bearing witness, taking evidence and judging equitably?

It seems that in these troubled times, the politics of identity have completely replaced the moral framework which underpins our faith.

What if, after the photo has been shared 30,000 times, it turns out that the alleged attacker was innocent?

Does anyone have regrets and repent, or do we just write it off as a case of collateral damage? Mere fallout of the new vigilante religion we have made?

Pray tell.

Investigate

It’s heartening that there are people in modern times who dedicate their time to checking facts. Tracing claims to their source, mapping the path of the information as it spread worldwide. Investigating the contents of the claims. They are the modern inheritors of the sciences of isnad and matn.

But it is disheartening that they are rarely Muslim, and that in complete reverse, it is often Muslims who spread the unverified junk without a moment’s pause, purely because such claims confirm to their worldview or what they wish to believe.

This Quranic maxim is the last thing we want to hear:

O you who have believed, if an ungodly man comes to you with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.

False witness

It is disturbing how willingly we will share photographs from one situation and pass them off as new images of another.

We have witnessed this repeatedly this week as France stepped up its bombing campaign against ISIS.

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that there have been civilian casualties as a result of this action.

However, every one of the phtotographs provided as evidence has on investigation turned out to be several months old. Some actually depict the victims of the regime’s bombardments.

Using photographs of one conflict to depict another is not just unethical, but also alters the historical narrative. Who nowadays recalls the crimes of the regime?

Legends

The daily reading of the Facebook news feed is an instructive illustration of how myths easily and permanently solidify into undeniable realities: once an untruth has been repeatedly recounted it becomes real and true in the popular imagination. Preposterous embellishments only make it seem truer still: even if we disagree on the details, agreement on the core guarantees that the original claim was always broadly true. In past times legends had decades to incubate; today our myths are instantaneous. Depressing, but fascinating all the same.

Antisocial Media

There is a video doing the rounds on social media which, it is claimed, shows a Shia man in Mecca praying towards Karbala:

?#?Makkah? – This Shia is praying towards Karbala and the ?#?Kabah? is behind him!

The response is entirely predictable; each time the video is reposted on Twitter or Facebook, a new barrage of rabidly inflammatory sectarian remarks follow. Few seem willing to ask obvious questions, such as is the claim accurate or true?

Of course this claim has a back-story, brought to life by the Saudi Al-Arabiya and  Israel National News websites late in 2013, which reported the musings of Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al-Maliki, as a doctrinal schism. Personally I don’t know why people of influence insist on making ambiguous statements that can easily be misconstrued or misrepresented by others, but it’s pretty clear that he was speaking in spiritual terms. To my knowledge, no Shia Muslim actually prays towards Karbala in the physical sense. 

But that will not deter those intent on promoting sectarian divisions by posting and reposting a video of dubious providence online. The social media generation seems not to care about truthfulness, accuracy or reliability — those Quranic maxims once so important. Nowadays “Verify it!” is always far from the mind. The pursuit of truth has been displaced by propaganda.

The first time I encountered the video, I suggested that the individual seen praying in the wrong direction was just a confused old man. But the next time I encountered it, my Obsessive-Compulsive urge to investigate everything got the better of me. I am too much a cynic to believe even half of what I read or see online. Friends hate me for it, I’m sure, but I just can’t help it.

So began my ten-minute investigation: what was that building in the background at the end of the video? I started with a Google Image search of buildings around the Kaaba. A satellite view of the Kaaba via Google Maps followed. One building looked very similar to the building in the video, so I zoomed in and clicked on various photos of it. It was an entirely convincing match.

390550_Dar-Al-Tawheed-Intercontinental_DDD[1]

If I am not mistaken, the building in the background at the end of the video is the Dar Al-Tawhid InterContinental hotel. Unfortunately for those claiming that the video shows a Shia man praying towards Karbala, this would mean he’s actually praying more in the direction of Jeddah, or Sudan, or Brazil. Completely the wrong direction for anywhere in Iraq.

Could it be then that my initial supposition was correct? A confused old man, possibly from South Asia, who’s used to praying to a Qibla of 256 degrees? Could his prayer mat with built-in compass be at fault? Could he be missing mental faculties? Could that just be where his flying carpet landed? Could there be another reason for this man’s mistaken actions? Could he be given another excuse? I hope so, because at times I’ve been know to pray in the wrong direction by accident too.

On social media these days people seem all too ready to share anything and everything, regardless of its accuracy or truth. It’s a sorry reflection on our state; a people supposedly concerned about verifying the accuracy of information that comes to us. A people supposedly concerned about the truth. It’s a tragedy. Who knows who will be harmed as a result of misinformation so readily shared?

 

Daily Mail fakery

Clearly the Daily Mail was on a tight turnaround for today’s non-story. Not content with employing the dubious ethics of pretending to be a teenage sympathiser of terrorism to tease out sensational soundbites, the newspaper chose to create a contrived Photoshop montage to illustrate the article. Check it out…

dailymail-photoshop

You’ll notice that the left of the image (arm and second bag) is a contorted clone of the original right side. The new hand probably belongs to someone else. Most of the bricks in the wall are exact copies of others. The bag on the left vanishes into thin air…

Come on Daily Mail, standards are slipping: if you’re going to engage in fakery, at least do it properly. But then again, maybe it’s the perfect fit for this wholly suspect article. Good show!

Casualties of war

People are sharing an image purporting to show 13 children executed by ISIS for watching a football match on television. I did a reverse image search of the image using TinEye.com and found that it actually shows victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982.

I have no way of knowing if the story about ISIS is itself true or false, but the use of images from other conflicts does demonstrate how unethical some reporters of news/rumours are.

Last summer I was Mr Unpopular for subjecting alleged photos of destruction in another conflict to the same kind of scrutiny. A few photos which I encountered — said to show Israeli violence during Operation Protective Edge — turned out to be from their confrontations in earlier years or, in a few cases, from other theaters of war.

Mr Unpopular, I suppose, because truth is supposed to be the first casualty of war… in conflicts like this a generic kind of truth is all that’s required. We’re not supposed to quibble about individual truths, as long as the narrative is broadly correct. Hence the BBC got away with reporting a massacre by Assad’s forces in the early days of the Syria war, even when it was demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the images they used were from the Iraq war a decade earlier.

Ever since, the online press has shown no compunction about blurring the lines of reality, being economical with the truth or just being plainly malicious. Last year, dozens of photos were circulated online alleged to show ISIS atrocities — but many of the photos could be easily traced back to their origin, sometimes years earlier, sometimes on different continents. A Mexican woman beheaded by a drug cartel gang was one; a little girl killed during aerial bombardment by Syrian forces was another.

The propaganda used by all sides is used to prepare us for war of some kind. We could all then say that we are excused from probing. But just as the age in which we live provides ever greater opportunities to mislead and be misled (viral emails, retweets and Facebook posts hardly have a parallel in earlier times), so we have technology at our disposal to investigate and challenge the claims of the devious.

Don’t believe everything you read or see. Be prepared to ask difficult questions, even if makes you unpopular — and even if it seems to be against your own interests.[1. “Speak the truth event against yourself…”] Warmongers — on all sides — use extreme imagery to generate extreme effects. Many a goodhearted young man has been so repulsed by the suffering of an oppressed people — reaffirmed one hundred times over — by grotesque imagery on a news feed that he has decided to do something. Many a patriotic young soldier — fed a diet of the barbaric deeds of the other — has been led to war in foreign lands against the barbaric enemy of the day.

Truth need not be the first casualty of war in the modern age. We have powerful search algorithms at our disposal with which we can investigate the veracity of an image. We have access to vast databases of all that has been said before. While we may not be able to uncover the motives and intentions of others, we can at least scrutinize their claims.

Are any of these claims true?

A friend posts conspiratorial claims on the Internet. I am surprised, because he is a student of knowledge who knows all about the importance of verification in our deen. So I ask, “Are any of these claims true?” A friendly exchange follows, for we each have a different take on these matters. Perhaps we just have to agree to disagree.

But, alas, my disputations are not appreciated. Somehow I must be convinced, even if it means sharing an article from a website which is as much devoted to aliens and UFOs as to the political machinations of the State. A faked photograph showing video fakery will surely convince me that the latest conspiracy theory is absolutely watertight and true.

Convincing? No, not really. I’m a dab hand at Photoshop myself and could mockup pretty much the same image in about half an hour by raiding a Google Image Search. True, the photo was just an illustration, chosen to complement an article: but a bad start in the mission to convince.

Now, look, I’m as partial to conspiracy theories as the next man. The Running Man and Enemy of the State are two of my favourite films. I am quite happy to believe that nations whose economies rely on weapons sales and access to oil use underhand techniques to help pave the way for war. Tony Blair, George Bush, WMDs, cough. This doesn’t mean I have to accept every claim I read on Facebook, however, just because it fits with a narrative I wish to believe and hold to.

This is why I will go on challenging spurious, unverified and curious claims whenever and wherever I encounter them. Why? Because we are charged with being a people of truth, and therefore we need to be certain that every piece of information we pass on is true. If there’s doubt, I tell myself, leave it out.

Shouldn’t those six short words be our minimum starting point, every single time?

Verify it!

This evening I received an email from a Muslim friend warning me about a new computer virus called “The Olympic Torch”. The email said it was crucial I let everyone know about this, to prevent anything untoward happening. I didn’t forward it however; ever the cynic, I went straight to website of Symantec Coporation, the anti-virus specialists, and typed the word “Hoax” into the search field. What was the first thing that came up? Yes, you guessed it: The Olympic Torch Hoax.

Symantec Security Response encourages you to ignore any messages regarding this hoax. It is harmless and is intended only to cause unwarranted concern.

The Olympic Torch Hoax is being spread through email. It has been reported that the following text of the hoax may differ slightly in the various messages going around. The email warns of a virus that burns the whole hard disk drive a computer. This virus does not exist.

I find it incredible that Muslims, of all people, are so easily led. We belong to the ummah which gave the world the science of isnad, after all. The preservation of our religion has relied on the solid foundations of verification. And yet today we are so easily enraged by unverified reports in emails from people we don’t even know. What has become of us? It happens all the time – right the way from the pig’s head cartoon circulating in Palestine alleged to be one of the Danish cartoons to the more mundane virus alerts we receive weekly – and it makes me sad.

Perhaps we need to reflect on our heritage more. Here M.A. Anees and A.N. Athar* give us an idea of how far short we are falling today compared to those who passed before us:

Looking at the elaborate methodology that evolved through Ulum al-Hadith, including rules for transmission, textual criticism, chronological authenticity, papyri, and similar criteria for validation, Ulum al-Hadith offers a unique example of information management. It is the only branch of knowledge that requires personal ethical responsibility on the part of individuals who involve themselves in this endeavour. In its quest for exactitude, it held accountable those who transmitted information. It offered a methodological balance by not invoking wholesale rejection of transmitted matrial but designating it in a graded fashion depending on the external and internal validation. Judged from this criterion, Ulum al-Hadith presents a pioneering example in critical historiography.

* Anees, M.A. and Athar, A.N. (1986) Guide to Sira and Hadith Literature in Western Languages (London: Mansell Publishing Limited)