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.

To inquire

In her rage at Tony Blair on Friday as he sat before the Chilcot Inquiry she accidentally dashed over a goblet of red wine. To his crimes of forging war and invading a sovereign state, she added the painful stains on the beautiful wooden floor. Thus acts the modern Muslim, scared to take the self to account, always ready to blame another, to upbraid imperialism and the fanatic. The enlightened Muslim seethes at the woman in hijab, the bearded youth and all who embrace a practical faith and eschew the politics of identity, screaming of the intolerable shame they shower upon her. We shall not speak of our abandonment of prayer, of our poison tongues, our short-selling, our aggressive anger. God will not change the condition of the people — recalls the Muslim so chastised, turning back to their faith ever so slightly — until they change the condition of themselves. But the modern Muslim censures everyone but herself. Today, Tony Blair, white imperialism. Yesterday, white liberals, veiled women, Muslim converts. We learn nothing from the upturned goblet.

Chasing wild geese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than bricks and mortar

Recent months have seen a sudden upsurge in devotion to the Christian faith amongst followers of the British National Party (BNP) and the English Defence League (EDL). In June the BNP chimed against the Islamic colonisation of Britain, seen in the widespread conversion of churches throughout the land: the Central Mosque of Brent; the former Forest Gate Church; Peckham’s St Mark’s Cathedral; West Didsbury’s Albert Park Methodist Chapel; Oldham’s Glodwick Baptist Church; and 250 year old Brick Lane Church in London’s Spitalfields (once a French Protestant church, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and now a Bengali mosque). All of these churches — and many more — have fallen to the Islamic invasion.

The BNP are not alone. As the EDL prepare to descend on Manchester on 10 October to protest against Islamic extremism, a video has appeared on the internet, making a rallying cry for England’s Christian heritage.[1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWcGOt4btwY (spiritofstgeorge)] In his video entitled, ‘EDL: Defending our heritage & birthright – Manchester Oct 10th 2009’, Lionheart of Luton, Paul Ray, builds a picture of a nation under siege. While it begins with headlines captured from the Daily Mail and the Express to illustrate how Muslims receive special treatment — whilst England’s natives suffer at their hands — this is another ode to the churches of England.

‘Manchester England,’ reads a slide midway through the video, ‘The destruction and desecration of a Christian Church and graveyard to make way for a Mosque’. The slides intersect a video showing a tracked Komatsu digger moving earth within the grounds of Longsight’s St John’s Church. The next slide reads:

Are yesterday’s politically correct Church leaders irrelevant to us in todays United Kingdom? Psalm 81:9 There shall be no foreign god among you; Nor shall you worship any foreign god.

In this video, the EDL has messianic pretensions, likening church leaders to the corrupt Pharisees of old, but they would rather not share the Christian message here. Instead, invoking the book of Samuel, they turn to an earlier saviour for inspiration. The EDL is David to the Muslim Goliath in England’s midst:

The Saul generation of Church leaders is coming to an end with the emerging David’s poised to take their place. Please show God where you stand and pray for the United Defence Leagues and their members

The video from St John’s is followed by newspaper clippings about the resignation of Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali — the only bishop, we are told, who grasped the extent of the threat of Islam to British civil society. Nobody mentions Kenneth Cragg these days, while the intellectually brilliant Rowan Williams is dismissed as some sort of loony. And so it is left to the EDL to defend Christianity, not just from the Muslims, but also from parish priests, pastors and impotent Bishops:

The David generation leaders are already in place and speaking the truth on-behalf of His people
Are you one of them who is willing to stand against the Islamification of this Christian land?

A little probing reveals that the source of the video showing building contractors working on the church site is a BNP supporter, who posts the full version on YouTube entitled, ‘Saint Johns, Christian Graves Desecration’[2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z6o5Ccwb0A (SuperAceofDiamonds) ] with the description, ‘Graves desecrated at Saint Johns Church in Longsight, Manchester, England as Church is converted into Mosque.’ The BNP itself has an article featuring both the video and further photographs on its website.

There is a problem, however. When I researched the history of St John’s, Longsight, I found that it was decommissioned in 1999. Neighbouring St Agnes — ‘in this place will I give peace,’ inscribed above its entrance — now houses the abandoned church’s statue of St John the Evangelist in its nave. It has taken the BNP and EDL an entire decade to lament the loss of this historic place of worship and its descent into disrepair.

Of course, the key issue riling the nationalists is the desecration of the site. But here again there is a problem. A quick enquiry with the City Council reveals that St John’s Church is a Grade II listed building, which means that it is considered nationally important and of special interest.[3. Listed buildings in Manchester by street, Manchester City Council — http://www.manchester.gov.uk/info/514/listed_buildings_register/1908/a-z_of_listed_buildings_in_manchester/18 ] To make any changes to such a building requires the owner to apply for building consent.

Lo and behold, we discover that planning permission for a 16 space car park in the church garden was granted early in 2007. In the intervening period, the owners have spent £50,000 repairing the building, which now houses Dar-ul-Ulum Qadria Jilania mosque and Islamic Centre. A photograph on the BNP website clearly shows that the graveyard has been carefully preserved, although the picture has been tagged, ‘grave-in-front-OF-DIGGER’, since the work in the church garden can be seen in the background.

It turns out that the graveyard has not been touched at all. But if it had been, should we not expect the BNP and EDL to be enraged whenever a graveyard comes under the developer’s gaze? Locals certainly protested when a builder obtained planning permission to redevelop a derelict chapel in Coedpoeth, Wrexham, which included plans to build luxury flats and a car park on top of approximately 100 graves in 2007. But as far as I can tell, the BNP did not join their protests.

The truth is, the redevelopment of graveyards is a fairly common occurrence in the United Kingdom. Rehoboth Baptist Church in Horsham, for example, has just completed construction of a seven space car park and garden of remembrance on its former graveyard. Planning permission to remove the headstones without disturbing the actual graves and to block pave part of the site was granted in 2005. The BNP and EDL, of course, will not be protesting about this car park on this graveyard.

And that’s the problem. The BNP and EDL wish to use the redevelopment of church buildings as ammunition against Britain’s Muslim population, but the facts do not support them. Reading their literature, you would imagine that hoards of Muslims were running amok throughout the land, confiscating church property at the expense of lively congregations. Nowhere is the reason for church closures mentioned — ironically for people that speak of a David Generation, a term commonly employed by those concerned with conquering the personal Goliaths of the ego, there is no introspection here.

Nor are the numbers of closures put in context. For while seventeen hundred Anglican churches have been made redundant since 1969, there are still over 48,500 churches of different denominations serving their communities nationwide. Moreover, over the same period, The Church of England opened more than 500 new churches, while continuing to maintain over 16,000 others. If, as some claim, there are now seventeen hundred mosques in the United Kingdom, this is still only 3.5% of the total number of churches in the country (interestingly the Muslim population of the UK is a similar proportion of the whole).

If Muslim worship appears to be more visible than that of the Christian, it could only be because the Muslim still views the Friday Prayer as England’s Christians viewed Sunday Worship one hundred years ago. Even a believer on the borders of his faith still feels duty bound to put on his Friday-best once a week. But it would be misleading to suggest that seventeen hundred mosques have sprung up in place of the seventeen hundred Church of England buildings closed over the past forty years, for Anglican churches have covenants conferred upon them which usually prevent them from being used by other faith communities. While BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has claimed that Church of England buildings are being turned into mosques, ‘up and down the country,’ it is actually rather hard to find any. The closest I can find are a couple of gurdwaras utilised by the Sikh community.

If my own experience reflects a wider trend, I would suggest that only a handful of mosques in Britain are of great note. Converted houses, rooms above shops, disused warehouses and hired halls in multi-cultural centres are all included in the number of mosques in Britain. The Archbishop’s cubbyhole under the stairs for private prayer would not seem out of place in our sometimes ramshackle collection of prayer halls. Nevertheless, it is true that Muslims have bought former churches — notably redundant Methodist chapels which seem to be in great supply.

So the BNP and EDL have a point? Well I don’t think so. While ranting about St John’s, Longsight, they completely ignore St George’s, Hulme, a Grade II listed building built in 1823 which has been converted into a place of residence, a mere two and a half miles away. But why should this surprise us when they also ignore the conversion of former churches into restaurants, gyms, pubs, nightclubs, shops and private apartments? Brixton’s St Matthew’s church is now the Mass nightclub, which promises revellers loud music, all night dance and expensive spirits. O’Neill’s on Muswell Hill Broadway, housed in a grand old church, offers cheap food and Guns ‘n’ Roses. Cheltenham’s St James’ is now an Italian restaurant. St Luke’s in Heywood, Lancashire, located 14 miles from Manchester City centre, has been turned into a huge family home, featuring six double bedrooms. And for between £250,000 and £500,000 you too can own one with estate agents listing hundreds of former chapels, rectories and churches, already converted or waiting to be converted, with planning consent already obtained.

If the BNP and EDL were genuinely concerned about the loss of historic places of worship and the demise of their Christian heritage, they would say to their members, ‘Look, churches are closing all around us because we don’t use them. We need to start making Sunday special again.’ That task, however, would entail asking their followers to take personal responsibility for their lives: that only ten percent of British Christians regularly attend church cannot be blamed on the mainstream political parties, on multi-culturalism or political correctness. It certainly can’t be blamed on the Muslims.

But the likely response of such people would be to say, ‘Don’t bring religion into this.’ Though they claim to be defenders of the faith, they are in fact like the utilitarian jihadis who dispense with the boundaries of religion, claiming that the end will justify the means. Like those who ignore the prohibitions of their faith, the BNP and EDL ignore the message at the heart of the religion they claim to hold dear. When Jesus — peace be upon him — was asked which were the greatest commandments, Christians believe that he replied:

“The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”[4. Gospel of Mark 12:29-31]

If this message is unclear to those of the David Generation, Jesus — peace be upon him — is reported to go on to say, ‘But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’[5. Gospel of Matthew 5:44] And if they insist on bringing, ‘I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword,’[6. Gospel of Matthew 10:34] let them read it in context: Jesus — peace be upon him — knew that most of his people would reject his teachings, which would divide both families and communities. His was a vision of a just society: he overturned the tables of the moneylenders in the temple, he promoted fair treatment of the poor and forgave his enemies. In the context of his time, many of the parables appear as much an assault on the social injustices of his society as messages for spiritual growth.[7. See for example Jesus the Prophet: His Vision of the Kingdom on Earth by R David Kaylor, John Knox Press, 1994]

More famously, perhaps, we have the Beatitudes: blessed are the are the poor, the hungry, the weeping, the hated, the meek, the merciful, those pure in heart, and the peacemakers.[8. Gospel of Luke 6:20-23 and of Matthew 5:1-14] A worthy message indeed, but one clearly lost on those self-declared champions of Christianity in Britain, the BNP and EDL.

Last Thursday, twenty Muslim gravestones were pushed over and a number were broken at Manchester’s Southern Cemetery on Barlow Moor Road.[9. Manchester Evening News, 2 October 2009 — http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/s/1153293_muslim_graves_targeted_in_hate_attack ] It is not possible to say at this stage who was responsible and what motivated them, but the Police are treating it as a racially-motivated crime. It is not inconceivable that it was a revenge attack for the alleged desecration of Christian graves at St John’s, Longsight — a mere ten minute, four mile drive away.

Love your neighbour as yourself? Love your enemy as yourself? Blessed be the peacemakers? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions about the authenticity of the nationalists’ new found faith, and where it is liable to lead us.

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.

For God and country?

Although Lesley White’s article focusing on the social life of the British Muslim community in this weekend’s Sunday Times was not particularly negative, it has irritated me. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the United Kingdom is defined by a monoculture, outside which lie the Muslims. It is not.

I am a native of these isles: my lineage on my father’s side is English through and through, while I am quarter Irish on my mother’s side, with roots tracing back to County Wexford in the south. Growing up, long before I embraced Islam, it was patently clear that there is no such thing as British culture. Our society has always been split along multi cultural lines – cultures of class, creed, political affiliation, dialect, region, social mobility, employment and so on.

My paternal grandfather was a strict Methodist who never drank alcohol, smoked or gambled. When he entered the army in the 1940s the Anglican chaplaincy looked down upon him as the follower of an inferior and erroneous creed. He often said he regretted not staying in the army, but my grandmother thought he might not have been happy in the long term. In the war years the other soldiers tolerated his abstention from mess culture – he would wander off on walks or go away to read as the card games, smoking and drinking commenced – but they may not have been as accommodating as the years passed by.

But these diverse cultures of creed have long existed within British society. My good neighbours belong to the Free Church and their culture too has its own particular mores – they are lovely people, extremely kind, very generous, living a good life, attending church twice every Sunday and once every Wednesday night. This little country town of mine has several Baptist churches, a number of Free churches, a Catholic church, a couple of Anglican churches, a Spiritualist church, a Quaker meeting house and several others of denominations I do not even know. The faithful of each of those churches are marked out by the nuances of their particular culture.

I am sure of this. I was brought up as an Anglican in the Church of England. Unlike my late grandfather, my parents and siblings all drink alcohol, but our culture was still distinct from that of many of my peers at school. Beyond our disinterest in football or regularly going to the pub – those musts of the mono-culturalists – there were the social links maintained predominantly on the basis of affiliation to a common denomination, the home group study circles held in each others’ homes, the regular attendance of church, Sunday school and the Christian youth group.

I was brought up in Hull in the north of England, which was traditionally a fishing economy and thus the culture of the town had its own flavour, dissimilar to that of the mill towns inland around Leeds and Bradford, and so people from Leeds used to look down on people from Hull, and vice versa. I think too of the strong cultural identities of members of the Conservative Party, The Salvation Army and the Socialist Workers.

I could go on, but I think you get my point. The idea that there is such a thing as a unitary British identity is a myth at best and an outright lie at worst. It is being used today as a weapon against the Muslim community – which itself is not clearly defined – by social commentators with other agendas. Lesley White writes:

“The unseen corners of British Muslim life have little to do with militant Islam, but they force an acknowledgment of how intrinsically different, how apart, this community is, and how doomed any demand for assimilation. Religion is not what they do on Sundays – easy to dismiss in our search for comforting common ground. It is a complete identity and a filter through which every relationship, every item of news, every bite of food, is mediated.”

My upbringing as an Englishman and an Anglican taught me that every sub-category of British society provides an identity – sometimes complete, sometime partial – that filters the very same things. My Methodist grandfather who was mocked at work for not drinking. My Anglican mother whose life revolves around her parish. My vegan friends. My football obsessed colleague. Still, the journalist ends:

“If we want to reach them, as Khalid Sharif suggests, we have to address them as a faith group rather than a recalcitrant ethnic subcategory.’ And if you don’t talk to them,’ he had added ominously, ‘someone else will.’ But I think we are allowed to request that they talk our language too.”

They? I invite Lesley White to Amersham, to climb this hill wee hill above my place of work. At the top there is a memorial to the Protestant martyrs, the inscription of which reads:

“In the shallow of depression at a spot 100 yards left of this monument seven Protestants, six men and one woman were burned to death at the stake. They died for the principles of religious liberty, for the right to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures and to worship God according to their consciences as revealed through God’s Holy Word. Their names shall live for ever.”

I remind you, Lesley, of The Toleration Act of 1689. I remind you that we are not living in those days when men and women were burned at the stake because they were non-conformists. We are where we are today because the British gradually learnt to accept that ours is a diverse society. We are Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists, Adventists, Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, Humanists, agnostics… and this list goes on, and on.

We speak the British language. We are teachers, doctors, administrators, software developers, lawyers, factory workers, shop owners, street cleaners, social workers and students. We speak the British language, but like the Methodists and the Protestants before us we consider our faith a precious gem. It is you, Lesley, who must speak the language: assimilation is not the British way.

You can read her article here:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-2155558.html

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.

There’s something in your eye

I have never been a good Believer, neither as a Christian before those five years of agnosticism nor as a Muslim ever since. My faith has never been zealous; when I said I didn’t believe in God for a year or so around the age of fifteen even my atheism was agnostic. Nevertheless, however simple my faith may be, I do tend to take words seriously. I waver and slip often, sometimes steaming off as if towards oblivion, but those short Semitic sayings always call me back before long.

My literal interpretation of Gospel advice to turn the other cheek meant that I would never stand up for myself if I was picked on at school—it was a revelation for me when my mother asked me why not in my final year of junior school. We were brought up on the good book, attending church and Sunday School throughout childhood. The earliest of those snippet teachings remain with me, so still I censure friends who “take the Lord’s name in vane”. I suppose it is this simple, literal faith of mine which leaves me so disappointed with the world we live in; we—believers of all faiths—are taught one thing, but then told to do something else according to the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

I am not under any illusions about the conflicts defining modern-day Britain—the most vocal voices define us as a secular nation, while traditionalists maintain this is a Christian land—but one can still dream that something of our religious heritage might shine through and colour the way we treat one another. Just imagine what public life would be like if it were defined by the citizen’s faith rather than a bizarre Machiavellian worldview. How would all this public calling-Muslims-to-account look in the light of words their saviour is said to have uttered?

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

There is no denying that we Muslims are falling far short of our ideals in our personal and political relationships. But it is gross hypocrisy for British politicians and the Press to demand that we get our house in order whilst they themselves are falling short as well. Who are we? A tiny minority making up 2.7% of the population; a disparate group made up of many ethnicities and following numerous interpretations of Islam.

I don’t usually comment on political affairs, but I have been reading about Camp Xray, Abu Ghraib and the cost of the war in Iraq recently. Indeed I have been reflecting on European intervention in the colonised world in general. The legacy remains despite independence. It is in no way reassuring—just very sad indeed—but it is still true to say that we Muslims are not alone in needing to get our house in order. The trouble is all of us seem to have planks in our eyes. None of us can see.

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.

A very poor show

In general I enjoy listening to programmes on BBC Radio 4. I don’t own a TV and only buy a newspaper about twice a month (usually The Independent, for my sins), so the radio is my main source when keeping abreast of current affairs. A pretty good job it does too: not least Start the Week for literature and the arts, but also the nature, politics, ethics and technology programmes.

Every so often, however, you hear a programme that makes you wonder what has happened to British “quality” journalism. I heard one such programme on Saturday night (15/10/05) entitled A War Against Prejudice, repeating an edition broadcast earlier in the week. The focus of this programme was a Jewish organisation known as the Community Security Trust and its alleged role in exaggerating claims of anti-Semitism in British society. I must confess that I know very little about either subject, but it seemed quite clear to me as an outsider – an English Muslim of Anglican stock — that the programme had been made with preconceived ideas. Listening to this documentary it was impossible to ignore that feeling inside, that the programme maker had begun with a conclusion and had proceeded to build his case around it.

When Gerry Northam interviewed members of the Jewish community – and Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain – who would lend support to his thesis, he used blatantly leading questions. By contrast, when he interviewed Melanie Philips – whose frequent anti-Muslim views turned me away from listening to The Moral Maze – he probed her fear of anti-Semitism without the impartiality one would expect of a journalist. When Philips recounted her experience of a woman telling her that she “hated the Jews, because of the way they treated the Palestinians”, the journalist embarrassingly offered his own explanations for this. Why?

This is not to argue that the premise of the programme was incorrect; two rabbis and a Jewish sociologist lent some support to his case, if not entirely voluntarily (although the programme did make the Community Security Trust sound like a secretive organisation akin to the BNP, but with links to the Metropolitan Police a better likeness would probably be the Muslim Council of Britain, albeit a more advanced version). Instead, my complaint centres entirely on what looked liked a most imbalanced form of journalism.

What concerns me is that we are likely to turn a blind eye to this sort of journalism – for 1) it does not affect our community and 2) it does affect someone we don’t like very much. Yet as a community that is commanded to speak the truth even if it is against our self, is this the right attitude? I wonder if we would find more success in our campaigns against distorted media presentation of Muslim issues if our own vision were not so closed. If our mission is to fulfil the role of being a mercy for mankind, is it not time that we put aside the dreadful claim to be the chosen people that has crept into our communities and instead stand up as witnesses to the truth?

It was back to business as usual on BBC Radio 4 yesterday afternoon, with Libby Purves chairing an excellent discussion in the last fifteen minutes of The Learning Curve on the effect the proposed Anti-Terror Legislation may have on Universities. Well worth a listen.
Quite separately, does “PM”, the title of their rush-hour news-hour, stand for “Permanent Moan”?
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 07:23 AM

Just found your excellent site. Whilst being an unbeliever I have immense respect for sincerely devout believers of all religions. You are reflecting the side of Islam that is sorely missed in our media. Most of my Moslem freinds and colleagues share the “moderate” (for want of a better word) interpretations of Islam you are promoting – more power to your elbow! However on the specific issue of Anti-Semitism in Moslem communities, I am often disturbed by the willingness of some Moslem friends to use offensice language about Jews. I have also noticed also a tendency to believe in “conspiracy theories” about “Jewish Control of America”. The evils committed against Palastinians are obviously at the root of this as is the American incabability to criticise israel. But this does not justify some of the Anti-semitism that I hear (generally from Pashto speaking Moslems- so maybe this is a cultural thing), who confuse Jewishness with Right Wing Zionism. We need to see a wideranging and open debate on this.
Posted by:
chris October 19, 2005 09:52 AM

“I don’t own a TV and only buy a newspaper about twice a month (usually The Independent, for my sins), so the radio is my main source when keeping abreast of current affairs.” You what? How the hell can you be a blogger and be so cut off from all that information?!? I assume you must read some online news right?
Posted by:
leon October 19, 2005 01:44 PM

Leon, you’re right of course. Do I have to do the backtrack thing (someone will have to explain it to me if I do)? Yes, I browse BBC online when I get to work at 8am every day and (I forgot about this) I watch a wide range of news programmes on Broadband via the wwiTV portal (http://mediahopper.com/portal.htm). A slight oversight, but you have to make allowances – it’s Ramadan, we’re fasting, low blood sugar. In any case, you get the drift – I listen to Radio 4 an awful lot. Why is it the afternoon play is always really good when I’m late coming back from my lunch break? I could sit in the car park all day.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 05:22 PM

Hi Chris, thanks for your feedback, tho I certainly wouldn’t categorise myself as a devout believer. Personally I dislike the term “Anti-Semitism” as “Racism” would do, although (note the contradiction) I always thought Muslims (as followers of a Semitic religion) would have been better cottoning onto this phrase than coining “Islamophobia” — but there we are. In any case, I wouldn’t deny that the tendency you mention exists in the Muslim community. I asked a Spanish Muslim about this when I was a new Muslim about seven years ago; his view was that it is a recent phenomenon which has its roots in colonialism and the Israel-Palestine problem, and is not historical.
But there is another thing to consider. The Islamic narrative insists that the Children of Israel were Muslims, thus much is said about them in the Qur’an which recounts tales of those who went before us in order that we might reflect and not repeat past errors (alas we fail to understand). It is often said that such passages are “Anti-Semitic” — I think contemporary Muslims often miss the point when they lament “Islamophobia” — we now fulfil the role that the Children of Israel fulfilled before us. We wouldn’t call the Qur’an “Islamophobic” of course – sadly, we just ignore it instead.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 19, 2005 06:03 PM

I regret that it is not true that Anti-Semitism is caused mostly by the Palestinian-Israeli situation. When working in the Gulf some years ago someone asked a Syrian colleague (a friend of ours) why he did not trust the Israelis. He gave an answer which I did not expect-“because the Jews of Medina did not keep their covenant with the Prophet.” I have heard this many times since. There is something more deep-seated than the easy Palestine explanation here. The publication of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” in the Arab World-the making and broadcasting widely of “Horseman Without A Horse” based on this forgery, plus all the conspiracy theories about how the Jews run everything show quite clealy that there is a deep seated problem about accepting an Israeli Jewish state in the middle of the Muslim World. Posted by: Frank October 19, 2005 09:46 PM

On a related topic does anyone else feel uneasy about the nature of the “anti-semitism discourse”? It seems to be presented more as a genetic defect than a prejudice. For example calling it “the oldest hatred” seems to imply something primordial about it. Most significantly of course is the fact that it’s given a seperate title whereas hated towards all other races is just classed as racism. Another worrying aspect is that the target of the “anti-semitism discourse” in the west is mainly muslims and people on the Left in countries like France, Britain and Germany. In Russia and Ukraine you’ve got members of the governments there making openly anti-jewish remarks yet places like that come far down on the list of the most anti-semitic places.
Posted by: Shamilaskov
October 19, 2005 10:17 PM

My grandmother – who is Anglican – when reconciling herself to the fact that I am Muslim recalled that she had been told as a child not trust Jews and Roman Catholics; but, she said, when she finally met both a Jew and a Roman Catholic they were the nicest people she had ever met. She told me, despite all the things people say about Muslims my Muslim friends were absolutely lovely. Prejudice comes in all forms and sometimes it’s because people isolate themselves that it persists.
Posted by:
The Neurocentric October 20, 2005 05:16 PM

Moderate Muslims

I am tired of hearing you say day after day ‘the vast majority of Muslims…’. I wonder, would you include me in that category? I absolutely abhor the attacks on innocent civilians attributed to Muslims, such as in Bali, New York or Luxor. It goes totally against the teachings of the Qur’an and of our Prophet who laid down rules governing behaviour even in a full scale war, such as engaging with combatants only, safeguarding the enemy population’s food supply and protecting their places of worship. Indeed our Prophet prohibited causing death by fire, which no doubt informs why many Muslims consider bombing totally un-Islamic. But I have a great problem with this term ‘moderate Muslims’ you use, because you never define it. What do you mean? Do you mean a practicing Muslim like me, who believes in Islamic Law? Do you mean all those other than the type who blow people up? Or do you mean something else?

Continue reading “Moderate Muslims”

“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?””

“Islam does not strike us as a very tolerant religion”

TO CONSIDER the issue of tolerance, we must work in the light of the teachings of the religion, not with the situation of the day in mind. For while we may wish to argue that Christianity today is a tolerant religion, this could not be said of all times in history. If Islam were to be held as untrue because of intolerance in some societies today, would Christianity then be held to be untrue because of its intolerance in the fifteenth century?

Continue reading ““Islam does not strike us as a very tolerant religion””

“If that had been said about Islam, there would have been an outcry.”

It is an undeniable fact that Christians and Christianity are often derided in the popular press, in comedy, in literature and numerous other outlets. More often than not these occurrences go unchallenged and even unquestioned. When the attack is on Islam by contrast, the argument goes, the response is one of public outrage. ‘They would never have got away with saying that about Muslims.’

Continue reading ““If that had been said about Islam, there would have been an outcry.””

The way they treat their women…

“I CAN’T believe how many black men are becoming Muslim in London… after the way they treat their women.” I once heard this statement being made one evening a long time ago, before I knew anything about Islam. The above statement makes an assumption about Islam, even though it does not assert that assumption directly. ‘They’ is supposed to refer to Muslims; the statement suggests that if a man becomes a Muslim he must accordingly treat women in a way which is presumably poor.

Continue reading “The way they treat their women…”