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.

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!

Taksim Square

Two weeks ago the big news was that Turkey had paid off its IMF debt and had pledged a $5 billion loan to the IMF to help alleviate the European debt crisis. Turkey seemed to have an air of confidence. And yet today the Prime Minister, democratically elected with 49.83% of the Popular Vote in 2011, is presented as an autocratic dictator. Is this the real mood of the nation, or outside provocation?

Unspeakable Evil

As the years pass by I grow ever more depressed by our reaction to evil in our midst. We care more about how we are represented than how we represent ourselves. How many more years must we engage in futile public relations exercises, while amongst us are those that promulgate unspeakable evil? For too long now we have used the notion of “Islamophobia” as a mechanism of denial, a means of avoiding taking ourselves to account. Is enough not now enough?

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.

Accentuate the positive

We all feel legitimately aggrieved when newspapers lend disproportionate coverage to fringe provocateurs in the Muslim community, magnifying the significance of their actions far beyond realities on the ground. We frequently beg for reprieve in the face of negative reporting concerning Muslims and their faith, demanding fairness in its place. Whatever happened to balance, we demand, petitioning anyone who will listen to give us the benefit of the doubt.

Encountering swathes of the volunteer Muslim media — websites, blogs and free newspapers amongst them — generates a not dissimilar ambivalence. My irritation with the perpetual obsession with documenting every instance of alleged Islamophobia whenever it occurs anywhere in the world, even if it means trawling the online press twenty-four hours a day, has already been forcefully noted. It is tiring having to sift through reports of every misdemeanor of The Other, presented as they are to induce instant gloom. But of greater concern is the habit of some websites insisting on giving such prominence to an insignificant extremist fringe, amplifying their importance out of all proportion: Pamela Geller is the Muslim media’s equivalent of the tabloids’ hook handed mullah.

The picture foisted upon us is, they’re all out to get us — which is presumably the same picture that a regular reader of the Daily Express or Daily Mail forms of Muslims. We are suddenly living in a very polarised world, split succinctly into us and them. Given a bit of push and shove, the wrong economic conditions and the collapse of the Police force, and we will all be at each other’s throats in no time.

Absent amidst all the dreary pessimism is a record of the positive contributions of human-beings to one another, of Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Just as the press cannot find anything to say about the role of Muslim doctors in sustaining the health of our nation, we can only dwell on the light lacking in The Other. We heard there was a bitter pill and we swallowed it.

Yet here I have a flier that was thrust into my hands as I left the mosque last Friday. The (non-Muslim) Mayor of our little market town is organising a sponsored walk to raise funds to assist in the relief efforts for victims of Pakistan’s massive floods this year. It is supported by the town’s Churches Together group as well as Muslim-run businesses. A positive story at last, of communities working together with care and foresight. But of course it’s not the only case: we just need to accentuate the positive.

Surely then this is a sign for you: one of the most melancholic individuals you know is demanding a fundamental attitude shift that requires us to constantly seek out the good.  For I am told that if you seek out goodness, this is exactly what you will find.

Risk Assessment

Dear Editors,

Explain to me, would you, what this means: ‘Sebastian Faulks outburst risks anger of Muslims’? Or this: ‘Sebastian Faulks has risked sparking Muslim outrage…’

Does it mean that you have not yet found any angry Muslims and you’re stirring? Or is it just that you’ve taken your risk assessment training a tad too seriously?

‘The bestselling author Sebastian Faulks has courted controversy by saying the Koran has “no ethical dimension”.’

He has courted controversy, has he? And how is his courtship going? Are Muslims engaging, or as it seems to me, are they too preoccupied with a month of fasting and prayer to lap up this manufactured schism? The comment fields are filling up with condemnation of backward Muslims who have no respect for free speech, for sure, but the Muslim voice is strangely absent. Hence ‘risk’.

As for you, Mr Mair, what was with that package on PM last night? No, don’t get me wrong, it was quite fascinating and instructive. I was just wondering about the invitation of Fay Weldon. Well, when I say wondering, I mean I was thinking, ‘Good choice’. For it was Fay Weldon, was it not, whose contribution to the Satanic Verses affair was:

‘The Koran is food for no-thought. It is not a poem on which a society can be safely or sensibly based. It gives weapons and strength to the thought-police — and the thought-police are easily set marching, and they frighten’ (Sacred Cows, 1989, p.6)

And when I say, ‘Good choice’, I really mean — well — on a discussion concerning the literary merits of the Qur’an versus the Old Testament, you could have invited a doctor of literature, an Old Testament scholar, one of the non-Muslim translators of the Qur’an. Rather than an author who is more associated with fictional tales of women trapped in oppressive scenarios. Though I admit, her contribution wasn’t lacking in that regard.

So a good choice if you’re stirring and you’d rather like to move beyond the ‘risk’ stage and onto to something more compelling. Effigies, bonfires, that kind of thing. Indeed, one blogger has already titled his post, ‘I smell a fatwa’ in anticipation. It would be a shame to disappoint.

But perhaps not the best choice if you seriously wanted to enlighten your listeners on the merits of one over the other. Never mind, we had Dr Mir. I can’t say I was awfully disappointed.

My dear editors — pardon me if I speak out of turn — but is it possible that you misjudged this one? Ever so slightly? I don’t even think Mr Faulks needs the publicity; his book seems to stand up on its own merits in the reviews I’ve read.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not averse to risk assessments (for I really must give you the benefit of doubt on this). No, I think they’re a jolly good thing. Indeed, I often think to myself, ‘If only I had done a risk assessment’ when another DIY job has gone terribly wrong.

No, it’s just that while undertaking your risk assessments, in order to have quantified the probability of Muslim anger properly, as well as identifying the hazard (Mr Faulks’ opinion) you really should have quantified exposure to the hazard, taking into account all of the environmental factors relevant to the case. Factors, I might posit, such as the fact that Muslims are currently fasting the month of Ramadan, which has numerous implications.

For example, it could be argued that a person who rises at 3.00am in the morning to take breakfast and then abstains from eating anything until just after 8.00pm might possibly feel somewhat weary, thus exhibiting less interest in manufactured schisms than usual.

Similarly it could be argued that a person who is spending their free time reading the Qur’an and standing the night in prayer, both ingrained habits of this month, may fail to get full exposure to said manufactured schism. Indeed, since many Muslims abstain from TV and internet use during this month, we are at risk of seeing the risk severely diminished.

Furthermore, you might possibly find that conditions of the fast such as restraining oneself from getting angry and holding one’s tongue from ill-considered speech lessens the likelihood of the full blown riot required. I could list other factors, but you’re intelligent folk; you get the gist.

Therefore, dear editors, I suggest you sit on this story for the time-being and then pull it out just as Parliament is debating the Religious Hatred Bill or something. Obviously you will have to think of another piece of legislation, as you used said Bill in 2006 when the issue of the Danish cartoons miraculously reappeared all across the media three months after the actual incident.

Not quite sure how you’ll bring it up again post-Ramadan; with the cartoon issue you had the redundancies at Arla foods. Perhaps when Mr Faulks gets nominated for the Booker Prize and you run the story, you could add this line: ‘Faulks courted controversy in August when he said…’ Well, you know the script already.

Risk assessments are all well and good. But sometimes there’s just no substitute for not publishing the story when you have a non-story.  I know it’s us who look stupid when you run these stories, but the ultimate judge of stupidity lies elsewhere.

Kind regards,

etc. etc.

Stupid News Day

I woke up late this morning, but now I’m up it seems like one of those Stupid News days. There was one of those debates about Islamic extremism and the moderates on the Radio 4’s Today programme on my way into work. Yahya Birt made a useful contribution, but the same could not be said of the author of a book on Immigration and Multiculturalism. He went off on the predictable “what do we mean by moderates” tangent – 40% of British Muslims believe in Shariah Law, he said, so when we’re talking about extremism it is a much bigger problem than we think.

He didn’t want to discuss the question of how we tackle those who think it’s a good idea to blow up innocents on the public transport system; he wanted to broaden out the discussion to cover anyone who thinks drinking alcohol is foolish and consuming interest is abhorrent. Well how is that going to help you prevent people from engaging in acts of mass murder? How does insisting that I am an extremist help you? I abhor wanton violence (I won’t even watch Hollywood shoot-em-ups), I pay my taxes, I don’t drop litter, I work in the public services, I try to be nice to those around me and helpful too, and yet you insist on labelling me an extremist. Sorry, I just don’t see how this helps you deal with the issue at hand.

It wasn’t the only Stupid News item. Once again the BBC is making much of Zacarias Moussaoui’s attendance of Brixton Mosque. I call it a Stupid News item because anyone who knew anything about Muslims would realise that – as people required to pray five times a day – we will attend the mosque wherever we find ourselves. So I have prayed in Brixton Mosque (once) and in the famous Finsbury Park mosque too (twice). I have also attended the Muslim Welfare House mosque in Finsbury Park many times, and Central mosque, and East London mosque, and a tiny Bengali mosque behind Euston Station. I have prayed in the Muslim Heritage mosque in Westbourne Park, the Shia mosque in Maida Vale, the Sufi mosque in Cricklewood and the prayer room in the back of the Salafi bookshop there.

I have attended the main mosque in West Ealing and the Pakistani mosque five minutes away. I have prayed in a Bengali mosque near Kings Cross that used to be a pub, and I have been to the Murabitun mosque in Norwich. I have attended an assortment of mosques in Peterborough, and the former Methodist chapel mosque in Hull. I have been to Hounslow mosque, and two in Southall, and I once tried to find Acton mosque. I have attended York mosque and Stirling mosque, and the Goodge Street mosque, and Aylesbury mosque, and Chesham mosque, and one in Leicester, oh and the Turkish mosque in Leicester too. Then there’s the Turkish mosque in Shoreditch and the other one up near Dalston. I have also walked past the main mosque in Dodoma, Tanzania, while I have attended many different mosques in Istanbul and the Artvin province of Turkey, not to mention my flying visits to Izmir, Izmit, Rize and Ankara. I have even utilised the Prayer Room at London Heathrow Airport and Wycombe General Hospital. Is that news? There’s a whole selection for you, depending which label you want to assign to me today.

The other piece of Stupid News focuses on how terror suspect Khalid al Fawwaz led prayers in Woodhill Prison in Buckinghamshire for a short period in 2003. Again, what is so incredible about this? In the absence of an imam, any of us can lead a group of Muslims in prayer. When friends visit my house, I lead the prayer. If I visit someone else’s house, my host will lead the prayer. In university prayer rooms up and down the land, students are leading others in prayer. What are the journalists thinking? Funny frock? Dog collar? Evening song and mattins? No, dear journalist, it really is not extraordinary at all.

Now I admit that I don’t really have any idea what goes on inside a Synagogue or a Sikh temple, but then it’s not my job to know. But these are journalists – it is their job to find out what is going on in the stories they are reporting. If journalists feel they have earned the right to lambaste bloggers as fountains of irrelevant opinion, they should at least try to prove it. These Stupid News items only seem to confirm that many of them are as stupid as me.

Media-induced Distress

Okay, so I am writing again already. Prompted by the first comment left by yet another “anonymous” under my last post, something needs to be said about media-induced distress. I cannot say that I have no sympathy for sufferers of this ailment; indeed it would be hypocritical for me to deny the anxiety stirring power of the media given the subject of my articles at the height of the cartoon fracas. I was, however, stunned by this comment:

“Why am I reading, and will continue to read, your blog? Because I now view all Muslims as terrorists with one goal; and that is to kill non-muslims. I know my view is being warped by the news media, critics, etc. so am trying to understand why…”

I cannot claim to be fanatical in following the media, but I do get a fair exposure so it is difficult for me to comprehend how anyone could come to the conclusion that “all muslims” are terrorists from this source. Is reporting really that bad? When the earthquake happened in Pakistan, I recall that a number of Muslim charities received very good publicity. Similarly their role in the relief efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan and, more recently, the famine hit regions across East Africa have received a fair amount of attention. On the other hand, much has been said about Muslims as victims of conflict and crisis worldwide. So what is it that blinds people to this reporting?

When my mother was a hospital chaplain some years ago, she used to come home telling us about “a lovely Muslim Doctor” who would come to pray in the chapel every day. When I became a Muslim myself, she asked me, “But what about the terrible way Muslims behave?” What is it that skews a person’s viewpoint despite their own experience? My grandmother once touched on this, telling me that as a child she was told never to trust Jews and Catholics; but when she finally met people of these two faiths she considered them some of the most wonderful people she had ever met. She told me this after meeting some of my Muslim friends at my wedding. They were lovely, she told me, despite what people say about Muslims.

It is interesting because I don’t take this blanket derogation of Muslims away with me from the media. In fact I am conscious that many Jews consider the BBC anti-Semitic because of its reporting from Palestine, many Black people claim it is racist, members of BNP call it anti-white, all while it is labelled Islamophobic. Furthermore, I never found myself thinking that all Irish people or all Catholics were terrorists at the height of the IRA bombing campaigns. I find it impossible to comprehend that one could be so heavily swayed by the news media. Thus, if this is a genuine occurrence I can only conclude that my own viewpoint is affected by the conscious decisions I have made.

The first such decision was to remove the television from my home. My wife and I made this decision around November 2001, primarily because we found ourselves wasting so much time in the aftermath of the attacks on America, coming home in the evening to watch the Six O’Clock News, Channel Four News, the Ten O’Clock News and Newsnight. We realised that our need-to-know attitude as actually false, for in reality we only come to know what editors choose to tell us. Life without television means that I am often out of touch with the latest trends, fashions, music, products, cars and conversations. Big deal. On those occasions when I am visiting friends and the television is on I do feel there is no need to feel regret.

Naturally I don’t have access to a hundred channels of satellite TV, indeed I never have. My newspaper when I choose to buy one is The Independent. I would never buy The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Mail, The Express or any other such paper. Conscious choices. On the Internet, it is a cursory glance at the BBC on my arrival at work in the morning, perhaps occasionally The Times, The Guardian and The Independent as well. I used to spend a long time scanning all sorts of sources, but again I realised it served no purpose. Consciously I chose to fast my media consumption. My one weakness is Radio 4, which I tend to have on in my car in the morning and evening and to which I listen at home.

A number of my friends have given up the media altogether, recognising the addiction for what it is. It is unnatural in any case, says one of them, for even a century ago our predecessors would have known little more than what was happening across the county. Important news would get through eventually, but decisions were not required based upon the breaking news. It is not healthy to have so much information bombarded at us day and night, he argued; quite an irony given that he works for the world’s largest satellite broadcaster. Other friends go on media-free retreats and come back telling us how refreshed they feel. As for me, I find my TV-free home a true sanctuary, an abode of peace (Darussalam).

Those suffering media-induced distress may find comfort in treating the addiction, fasting for a while, turning off the TV and closing the papers. Some drink green tea to detoxicate their bodies others fast the daylight hours. A similar prescription can certainly be written for the soul.

Making caricatures of us all

When I began writing several hours ago, having just turned off the Six O’Clock News in my car, I was pretty angry. I was foaming about the way Muslims have to react so stupidly every time a red flag is waved in front of us. Just after I became Muslim seven and a half years ago, another convert told me that the action we had taken was a bit like jumping on board a sinking ship. Days like this remind me of his analogy. But I’ve had dinner now and I’ve surfed a few blogs and suddenly noticed that it’s actually very hard to find Muslims saying anything stupid. All I see are the silent images on the BBC.

The cartoons in question were first published four months ago in Denmark, apparently to test the boundaries of freedom of expression. Perhaps Denmark had already established these boundaries when it’s Supreme Court ruled that a supermarket chain had the right to sack a young Muslim woman for wearing a headscarf to work. Of course, we can’t say this; it’s changing the subject. No, the newspaper in question, Jyllands Posten, consulted the Danish theologian Professor Tim Jensen before publishing the cartoons, according to Zaman Online. He responded with the advice that the cartoons should not be published, pointing out that “It will offend Muslims and only cause pointless provocation.” So the newspaper went ahead and published them anyway.

On 20 October 2005, the BBC reported that ambassadors of ten Muslim countries had complained to the Danish prime minister about the newspaper’s cartoons. Then the story disappeared for three months, only to reappear when Arla Foods announced it would have one hundred redundancies after its sales in the Middle East fell to zero. In this bizarre twist to the usual sanctions regime, Danish companies were pleading for a food-for-oil programme. Thus the EU Trade Commissioner, Peter Mandelson, chipped in to criticise the papers that re-ran the cartoons. Why did they re-run the cartoons? Did they, too, need to establish the boundaries? Were they still in doubt? Of course not. Nothing stirs fame like controversy. So away they wave with the red flag.

All day, the BBC has been stirring the story. The Today programme on Radio 4, then the World at One and PM. On the One O’Clock News on BBC1 TV, Darren Jordan introduced the package in sombre mood, we listened as the reporter told us that another clash of cultures, like that seen with the Satanic Verses, “was developing fast”, then Darren turned to the other camera with a smile and told us how to contribute to the debate online. While the sales of Lurpak continued to plummet, a self-righteous media began to fight back, chanting death to the enemies who have no respect for pointless provocation. Calls to boycott Middle Eastern goods quickly faded, however, when it was realised that the only Middle Eastern goods available were oil and stale baklava.

Apparently there has been a massive wave of protest across the Middle East. One involved a group of men pouring lighter fluid over a Danish flag which appeared to be made of tissue paper before setting it alight. In another scene, men whose convictions were so strong that they had to hide their faces beneath scarves surrounded the EU offices in Gaza and fired bullets into the air, gaining prime time airing on the Six O’Clock News and BBC Online. But rolling into Luton, the BBC filmed men walking out of a mosque looking scarily unperturbed. Even the non-Muslim asked for his opinion on the street seemed oblivious to the media frenzy unveiling around him. Unprepared, he stuttered something about nothing and shrugged his shoulders.

Personally I believe there must be better ways to honour our blessed Prophet, peace be upon him, than to violently demand a non-Muslim newspaper observes Islamic principles of not depicting the Prophets. Islam has always prohibited this because it wanted to prevent its followers from taking them as objects of worship down the line. That’s not unreasonable, if you think of the way Iconography has been used in the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Christianity. But would we not be better off honouring Muhammed, peace be upon him, by living as he lived, trying to curb our anger and observing patience? But then again, that seems to be what Muslims are saying on the blogs I’ve read. Only time will tell, of course; tomorrow’s Jummah and we’ll see if we have a ritual bonfire of tubs of Lurpak in the car park. We’ll see.

On the other hand, the BBC was making much of the democratic right to cause offence in the civilised countries of Western Europe today. Unlike those ignorant, backward Muslims over there with their quaint ways and failure to appreciate satire, Denmark is a land of enlightened souls doing nothing but exploring their boundaries. Yes indeed, Denmark is such a pleasant civilised land that a radio station in Copenhagen had to have its broadcasting licence taken away in August last year after calling for the extermination of Muslims. Whilst exploring the boundaries of freedom of expression, Kaj Wilhelmsen told listeners to Radio Holger: “There are only two possible reactions if you want to stop this bomb terrorism – either you expel all Muslims from Western Europe so they cannot plant bombs, or you exterminate the fanatical Muslims which would mean killing a substantial part of Muslim immigrants.” As Queen Margrethe of Denmark is quoted as saying in her autobiography, it is time to take the challenge of Islam seriously: “We have let this issue float around for too long, because we are tolerant and rather lazy.” You see: we in the civilized West are much too tolerant to behave like those flag-made-of-tissue-burning, sanction-wielding brutes over there.

Sorry if I speak out of turn, but the whole extravaganza reeks of hypocrisy – on all sides.

Meanwhile East Africa is currently suffering from a severe drought, which is threatening to put up to 2.5 million people in Kenya alone at the risk of famine. It might be time to shift our attention in that direction and come up with a positive outcome instead.

“What about the terrible way Muslims behave?”

THE NATURE of the news media is that in general it only reports bad news; the exceptions may include sports news, visits by statesmen and royalty, finance news, and the like. We would not expect to see a report on the news dealing with the wonderful weather which hit Albania today, or the absence of war in Utah, or the revelation that a politician was totally uncorrupt. We do not need, apparently, to be told such things. Journalists are not in the business of reporting good news; that’s the job of those lovely Disk Jockeys on Radio 2.

Continue reading ““What about the terrible way Muslims behave?””