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Unbefitting of a democracy

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 April, 2021 - 23:48
 a green open-backed Land Rover. His coffin (draped with his coat of arms) lies in the open back. Soldiers in formal uniforms can be seen behind the hearse in the grounds of Windsor Castle, the turreted walls of which can be seen in the background.Prince Philip’s hearse

Good morn or evening friends
Here’s your friendly announcer
I have serious news to pass on
To everybody

What I’m about to say
Could mean the world’s disaster
Could change your joy and laughter
To tears and pain

Stevie Wonder, Love’s In Need of Love Today (last song played on BBC London before it was interrupted for news of Prince Philip’s death)

Yesterday (Friday) the BBC broadcast a Feedback programme largely dedicated to the public reaction to the corporation’s decision to suspend most of its programming the Friday before last to broadcast the announcement of Prince Philip’s death and not resume normal programming for several hours and in some cases days. Most of the response was critical of it; the fact that Prince Philip was a consort, not the sovereign, was mentioned and the coverage was described as sycophantic and one writer asked where BBC executives were trained and suggested North Korea, echoing similar comments on social media. There have been a number of clips published on YouTube of how the different channels, BBC and commercial, announced the prince’s death and how if at all they then diverged from normal programming. The clips reveal something that was not mentioned at all in Feedback: the quite ungraceful way some of the existing programmes were interrupted. You can hear an example from Radio 2 here; the interruption takes place just after the six-minute mark.

Some of the stations, including BBC Radio 2 and BBC London, were simply switched off, sometimes mid-song and sometimes with the presenter in the middle of a sentence (the last Robert Elms show before the cut-off is still available on the BBC’s website at the time of writing and just cuts out mid-way through the Stevie Wonder song quoted above). There was then several seconds of silence before an official announcement from BBC News was made. This must have led some listeners to wonder what on earth had happened; had there been a power cut? Was their radio defective, or had the station itself “gone down”? A news announcement that was that important — had the bomb dropped? Were we at war? Had there been a military coup? “Buckingham Palace …”, oh, the Queen’s died. How sad. What? Prince Philip?!

I’ve heard BBC reporting of major disasters and of terrorist attacks and not once have I heard stations simply cut off at the flick of a switch in the middle of a presenter’s sentence. When the 2005 London bombings happened, the story was allowed to develop with the morning phone-in continuing to talk about other matters until it became clear that this was a terrorist attack and not a set of unrelated mishaps on different Underground lines; when this happened, the phone-in was ended and the station began broadcasting as one station with the Asian Network and one national station. True, this was not a single announcement but a developing story, but more than 50 people died and they still didn’t just cut into programming.

In comments under the various YouTube clips, there are a number of people trying to ‘school’ those of us who said this was over-the-top or redolent of North Korea, telling us that we don’t understand that Britain is a monarchy. Someone even claimed that Britain isn’t a democracy. Many of them seemed to have been overseas and did not realise that some of those objecting were British. I told them that this behaviour wasn’t befitting of a democracy and was asked why. The answer is that among the principles of democracy are that everyone is equal and that the media is free and not subject to interference. The idea that public broadcasting should be stopped dead to tell us of the death not even of the Queen but of a member of her family is just not what you expect in a modern society, and the sight of presenters on the edge of tears for someone they probably did not know very well was also rather unsettling.

I don’t think for a moment that the Royal Family demanded or expect any of this. It’s odd that people associate the Queen with graceful behaviour, yet this was anything but graceful; it was rude and imperious. It looks a lot like the BBC running scared from a resurgent Right which sees the monarchy as central to British nationhood and would regard anything but the height of ‘respect’ at a time like this as unpatriotic. It’s no denigration of the Prince’s achievements to say that the rest of us should not have been expected to stop what we were doing and sit up and listen as if something really important had happened when he died. He’s not the only person who fought in World War II; he’s not the only man who stood by his wife for 70 years. I had no objection to programmes being run on his life and achievements but for programmes to be rudely interrupted and then replaced by gushing tributes for the whole of the rest of the day is simply excessive and more redolent of a dictatorship’s media than that of a free country.

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National mourning?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 9 April, 2021 - 20:35
Prince Philip's coat of arms that show a shield with a crown atop it, with a lion on the right and a "wild man" on the left, with the 'garter' bearing the old French "honi soit qui mal y pense" (shame on whoever thinks ill of it) slogan and a slogan "God is my help" underneath. For imagery and full explanation see his Wikipedia page, linked in the caption.Prince Philip’s coat of arms (explained here)

Today Prince Philip died. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was the Queen’s husband and had the title Prince Consort and was known as the Duke of Edinburgh. He was probably best known for running the award scheme for young people that involves volunteering, physical training, skills development and an expedition; he was also well-known for a series of ignorant racist remarks he made to both adults and children when representing his country abroad or carrying out duties here in the UK. Nearly all the BBC’s radio channels (including the digital ones), local and national, and their two main British TV channels have cancelled normal programmes for the rest of the day to run “news specials” on the prince’s death (and interviews, obituaries and the like, mostly no doubt containing fawning coverage of his life) while politicians have announced that there will be no further press conferences (in the middle of a pandemic in which more than 100,000 people have died in the UK alone) nor appearances on weekend political shows. I tuned in on the way back from a delivery run this afternoon; Radio 4 had replaced its You and Yours programme with royal coverage and the tone of it was pretty sickening and rather embarrassing.

There were a bunch of the corporation’s royal correspondents, and maybe some regular journalists, but Nicholas Witchell among them, spouting off ridiculously obsequious and sycophantic nonsense about how central the prince was to national life and what a special place they have in our hearts, and how people will mention “Elizabeth and Philip” in the same manner as they talk of “Victoria and Albert”. All of this is nonsense. If we mention “Victoria and Albert” it is mostly in reference to the London museum of that name. There are a few other buildings named after Prince Albert, notably the Albert Hall in Kensington and the Albert Bridge over the Thames in west London. Albert died quite young and Victoria famously spent the next several years mourning him, appearing in public only rarely and even then dressed in black. The idea that Prince Philip has a great place in the public consciousness is simply wrong. We just know he’s there, some of us do the award (I haven’t) and those of us involved in charities they are patrons of at a high level (I’m not) have to remember our HMs and HRHs on the few occasions we are at events with them. But that’s about it. It’s the Queen and the younger royals that people have actual feelings about; when there’s a moment of national crisis, we hear from the Queen and some of us tune in and listen and some of us don’t.

Social media, of course, didn’t stop and I saw a thread of the various racist remarks Phillip had made during his life — asking a woman in Kenya who was presenting him with a gift if she were actually a woman, a comment about “slitty eyes” in relation to the Chinese — as well as a remark to the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner that “it’s a pleasant change to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people” as well as the father-of-four’s comment that, if reincarnated, that he would like to come back as a deadly virus so as to reduce the human population — the ugly face of environmentalism, the type that favours ‘cuddly’ big animals over poor people driven from their homes for wildlife reserves and whose livestock these animals often menace. Someone else drew our attention to his coat of arms which features “a representation of a wild man (or Hercules) girt about the loins with a lion skin, crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, holding in the dexter [right] hand a club”, i.e. a nearly-naked, very muscly man, which some people find hilarious. Footage of tributes on numerous advertising billboards on motorways were also posted.

I felt some sadness for the Queen; I don’t know her, of course, but a few years ago I lost both my paternal grandparents within a few months of each other. My nan died of a stroke (the result of congestive heart failure) and then my grandad’s health declined precipitously over the next few months. It happens a lot, though clearly the Queen will not have been solo caring for Prince Philip for several years at the expense of her own health. But it’s not befitting of a democracy for all public radio and TV broadcasts to be put on hold for the rest of the day, or even longer, because of the death of one person who was not that important, just because of his status. I have no problem with there being TV shows about his life, but the enforced saturation coverage and atmosphere of “national mourning” for someone most of us did not know, makes us look like a banana republic, albeit without the bananas or the republic.

Image source: Sodacan, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 3.0 licence.

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Book Review: Apropos of Nothing by Woody Allen

Inayat's Corner - 8 April, 2021 - 14:11

Almost forty years ago, in the song “Panic”, Morrissey from The Smiths damned DJ’s who kept playing inane music that said “nothing to me about my life.” I think Woody Allen may well have appreciated that sentiment as for over fifty years now, in an incredibly prolific career that has seen him write and direct almost a movie a year, he has consistently written screenplays that have tackled themes relating to love, death and meaning. And in case we don’t quite grasp it, a 1975 Woody movie is pointedly called Love and Death.

Born in 1935, Woody writes in his autobiography that he became aware of his own mortality very early on and didn’t like it one little bit.

“…around the [age] of five I became aware of mortality and figured, uh-oh, this is not what I signed on for. I had never agreed to be finite. As I got older, not just extinction but the meaninglessness of existence became clearer to me.”

The angst brought on by his vision of a bleak, uncaring and Godless universe is a consistent running theme throughout Woody Allen’s movies and in an insightful recent interview with the scientist Lawrence Krauss, Allen said that his writing and movie making were a necessary distraction for him to try and avoid facing up to that reality.

Woody started off his career while still at school. He would send off jokes to newspapers. They started printing them and Woody found that they paid much better than his newspaper round. Soon he was being approached by agents who asked him to write gags for TV comedians after school. He quickly began earning more money than both of his parents combined.  

Throughout the book Woody says that he has just been very lucky and that most people are unaware of just how big a part luck (or bad luck) plays in their lives. And he is also very self-deprecating – which is a welcome trait in an industry known for harbouring a number of oversized egos.

“I have no insights, no lofty thoughts, no understanding of most poems that do not begin, ‘Roses are red, violets are blue.’ What I do have, however, is a pair of black-rimmed glasses, and I propose that it is these specs, combined with a flair for appropriating snippets from erudite sources too deep for me to grasp but which can be utilized in my work to give the deceptive impression of knowing more than I do that keeps this fairy tale afloat.”  

Woody expresses regret towards the end of the book that he “has never made a great movie”. This verdict will no doubt be challenged by his many admirers, including your present reviewer, who regard Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Husbands and Wives as being amongst the finest movies ever made. Certainly, the Academy Awards committees over the years who have given him four Oscars may also have something to say about that.

In more recent years, however, Woody Allen has perhaps been more often in the news due to his personal life than his movies. In 1992 there was a nuclear sized fallout following the end of his relationship with his partner for thirteen years, Mia Farrow, after she discovered erotic Polaroid snaps of her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn (then 22) in Woody’s apartment. Woody and Soon-Yi (whom he married in 1997 – they are still happily married) had been having an affair. Several months later, Mia Farrow alleged that Woody had molested her seven year old adopted daughter Dylan. To this day, this controversy continues. As you might expect, the autobiography provides Woody’s side of the story: he asserts forcefully there was absolutely no molestation and Dylan was brainwashed into making the allegation by a spiteful and vindictive ex-partner. The passages about Mia Farrow often make for uncomfortable reading and Woody sometimes comes across as rather cold in his remarks – which is perhaps understandable given the nature of the allegations that have been made against him. The fact remains that no charges have ever been brought against Woody in relation to the alleged molestation despite there having been two official investigations into them.

As he was writing this book, Woody was working on yet another movie, Rifkin’s Festival. The reader is left with a clear sense of an amazing work ethic despite his age. “I’m 84 – my life is almost half over,” he quips.

As for negative points, I must admit to being irritated by the complete lack of any chapter breaks or chapter headings in the book and the failure to include an index. This could perhaps be due to the fact that the previous publisher, Hachette, cancelled its agreement to publish the book following an internal staff rebellion related to the 1992 allegations and so the book may have been produced in haste by the present publisher, Arcade.

“An unexamined life is not worth living,” said the Greek philosopher Socrates. With his life-long pre-occupation with love, relationships, death and the quest for meaning in the universe, Woody Allen definitely cannot be accused of having lived an unexamined life. He certainly appears to have asked all the right questions. It could just be that the answers he arrived at were sadly perhaps a tad off-beam.

“…and despair not of Allah’s mercy. Surely none despairs of Allah’s mercy except the disbelieving people.” (Qur’an 12:87)

Movie Review: The Dissident

Inayat's Corner - 1 April, 2021 - 18:43

 

Bryan Fogel’s new documentary, The Dissident –which began airing on Amazon Prime Video earlier today – tells the gripping and horrifying story of the murder in October 2018 of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi government agents in the employ of the Crown Prince, Muhammad Bin Salman (MBS).

Khashoggi was an insider who had worked in the Kingdom’s media industry for around thirty years. However, he was also committed to increasing freedoms in the country and holding those in power accountable: something we would consider quite normal in the West but is unthinkable to most “journalists” who are on the Kingdom’s payroll. Early on we are informed that “In Saudi Arabia, journalists are tools of the regime who are only supposed to write magnificent things about the government and how wise their decisions are.” We are told that the Arab Spring had a powerful impact on Khashoggi who saw how Saudi money had bankrolled the counter revolution that overthrew the democratically elected government of President Mursi and restored a tyrannical army-led regime to power in Egypt.

There was no room in Saudi Arabia for anyone critical of the regime and following a number of thinly veiled warnings from Saudi authorities, Jamal Khashoggi left his homeland and moved to the USA where he began to write more freely in the pages of the Washington Post.

Concerned about the extent of power being amassed in the hands of the Crown Prince MBS, Khashoggi got into contact with young Saudi activists living in the West and encouraged them to take on the Saudi Kingdom’s propaganda army on Twitter. Unfortunately, Khashoggi did not know that his phone had been infected with a hacking tool called Pegasus and his words and movements were now being monitored by the Saudi regime. Created by the Israeli company The NSO Group, Pegasus was able to turn a person’s phone into a bugging device that could read all the emails and messages a person sent and could activate the phone’s camera and microphone remotely so it could see and hear what the victim was doing at any point in time. Pegasus had been approved for sale to the Saudi regime by the Israeli Defence Ministry itself. The Israelis have since been shown to have sold the same spying software to a number of repressive Arab regimes to help spy on their populations. It is worth repeating this: the Israelis are directly helping to repress Arab populations and strengthen authoritarian regimes.

During a conference in Turkey in 2018 just months before his murder, Khashoggi met a researcher called Hatice Cengiz who would go on to become his fiancé. Hatice’s participation in the documentary and the story of their relationship provides the documentary with an emotional centre and is very moving. When asked how she responded to Jamal’s proposal of marriage given that she was much younger than him, Hatice says:

“I thought Jamal would do something good for humanity. And if I’m going to spend my life with someone, it can only be with someone like Jamal. I wanted to help him on his journey, to be by his side. Otherwise we all just live life. We’re born, we grow up, eat, sleep, travel. But who we do these things with is what gives life its meaning.”

I won’t give away the ending – though most of you will know what happens next. Still, Fogel’s documentary surprises us by showing us actual transcripts of the recordings made inside the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul by the Turkish intelligence services which conclusively show that the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was a not a rogue operation or a mistake or the result of a “fistfight” as the Saudis laughably claimed as they kept changing their narrative, but that it was a meticulously planned operation from the beginning and had MBS’s fingerprints all over it. The Turkish transcripts are genuinely shocking and they enabled the Turkish government to refute the Saudi regime’s lies as it initially denied any knowledge or responsibility for the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi.

It is worth remembering that the last article Jamal Khashoggi ever wrote for the Washington Post was headlined “What the Arab World most needs is freedom of expression”. Within days of writing that article, Jamal would become a martyr for the cause of freedom in the Arab world.

The viewer – if you live in the West – is left feeling angry but also relieved that s/he lives in the West. We do not expect our governments to break our doors down and arrest and torture our relatives if we criticise their policies. The sheer terror of living under a totalitarian regime is made clear. How tragic (and perhaps symbolic of the current state of the Muslim world) that Islam’s most holy places in Makka and Madina are under the control of a criminal gangster regime. A regime that has to resort to buying the loyalty of its so-called journalists – including many in the UK.

Video: Gaza's beauty and struggle from above

Electronic Intifada - 30 March, 2021 - 23:37
This aerial photographer captures Gaza’s cities from a new dimension.                                                                                                               

Avoiding some common scams

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 March, 2021 - 12:01
". Fogarty asks in the tweet "Is this a scam?".A screenshot of a tweet by Shelagh Fogarty.

The other day the British radio presenter Shelagh Fogarty tweeted asking her followers if a text she had received, telling her she had a parcel to collect but to click a link and “confirm the settlement of £1.99”, and the link was not to a Royal Mail site but to “rm-parcel8319.com”. (The comments underneath the tweet said that similar texts were being sent out in the name of other parcel companies, notably DPD.) The answer is that this is a scam and has a very clear red flag: that the web link in the text does not bear any resemblance to the carrier’s own website address.

What used to be known as ‘phishing’ scams rely on the victim to open a web link and provide them with access to their money through their bank account or credit card number. Email scams can disguise such things more effectively, because you can provide a web link that looks like an actual address but the actual target of the link is different. (On a computer, this can be worked around by running your mouse over the link and pausing it; a little box called a ‘tool tip’ will appear which shows the real address.) With text and telephone scams, however, the disguise is usually a lot thinner than that. They do not even bother with the old trick of using an address that uses similar-looking numbers or capital letters to those in the real address (e.g. roya1-mail.com, royal-maiI.com), though it would be quite useful if the carriers could buy these fake domains up themselves, which I can confirm that they haven’t. They just use their own domains, which allow the scam to be obvious.

41am. Not going to be in? Track it at [tracking address]". The second reads "today" instead of the date.Real tracking texts from Royal Mail (tracking numbers obscured for privacy).

To begin with, if you have a parcel coming through the Royal Mail (or any other carrier for that matter), you will know about it. It will have a tracking number which the sender will have told you about: these all have a particular pattern of letters and numbers (in the case of Royal Mail, it’s two letters, nine numbers and two further letters which denote the country it was sent from, such as GB). If payment is required, they will try to deliver it and if they cannot, they will leave a card inviting you to collect it from the depot and pay any fees then. Royal Mail might text you about the progress of your parcel, but they will mention the name of the sender, so you know it’s what you ordered. In the image above you can see an actual Royal Mail tracking text: it included the name of the company I ordered the goods from, in this case the British clothing company Seasalt, and a tracking number which corresponded to one on an earlier email (the domain name is their shortened domain name, ryml.me; although not their usual domain name, the personal details make it clear it is real). Scam texts will typically come out of the blue and have no details you recognise.

A totally different web address on a cold-call text is a dead giveaway, but a slightly cleverer disguise is to use the company’s real address as a subdomain to their own address. A subdomain is a site within a site; for example, a department or college within a university might well have a subdomain on the university’s website (as in: balliol.oxford.ac.uk). This relies on victims not knowing how a web address is structured. The key is to look for a slash after the legitimate web address (e.g. royalmail.com or tsb.co.uk); if there is a dot after it, it is a link to a completely different site that belongs to fraudsters, as in “royalmail.com.fraudsters2345.com”. If you see that in a text, delete it.

Another common trick of scammers right now is to use colloquial or out-dated names for actual institutions. There was one scam exposed on the BBC’s You and Yours programme recently by people calling themselves “the gas board”, a name people used to refer to regional state-run gas providers up until the 1980s when British Gas was privatised. Nowadays, there’s no “gas board”. The scam was probably targeted at the elderly. Another is “Inland Revenue”; this was Britain’s actual tax authority until a few years ago when it merged with Customs and Excise to become Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or HMRC. Yet, some scammers use this name. I have received calls recently from “National Insurance”, the name of the contributions we make to our pension, but this is not an actual institution and you will not be contacted by anyone calling themselves this, except scammers. This practice serves as a “clue filter”: it filters out people who ask questions and might be wise to them, leaving the easy marks.

So, the best way to avoid falling victim to scams is to consider the following things when you receive a phone call or text which invites or demands your money:

  • Do you do business with the company purported to be sending you the text? If it’s a bank you don’t have an account with but it mentions “your account”, it’s a scam.
  • Are you expecting anything from the company? If it’s a parcel from a company you don’t remember ordering anything from, it’s probably a scam.
  • Does it mention your name or have other identifying details? “Dear customer” is a sign that they do not know who you are, and have sent the same message to many others. It’s a scam.
  • Does it use the organisation’s real name? If it uses an old or colloquial name, it’s a scam.
  • If you click the link and your browser or Internet service provider tells you this has a bad certificate or is a known scam site, do not continue. If the website looks shabby and unprofessional and is meant to belong to a major parcel service or bank, it’s not real.
  • Does the organisation do business like this? Reputable companies don’t do cold calls; they normally rely on physical mail which will include your name and some identifier, such as a social security or National Insurance number that you can verify. In the UK, HMRC will not make threatening phonecalls and tell you to “get in touch now” to get you to pay your taxes or “face the consequences”. This is a scam. If you owe taxes, they will send you a letter.
  • If you receive a phone call playing a recorded message that is not from a company you currently have business with, you can safely put the phone down. Most reputable companies do not use automated (‘robo’) calls.
  • If the domain name does not match the company’s real one (you can just use Google to search for the name) or the real name does not have a slash after it, the domain name is fake. It’s a scam.

Many companies have pages giving details on how they will or will not contact you so you can recognise a real approach from a scam; Royal Mail’s is here. Your bank will likely send you a letter or give you a leaflet telling you these things. There are a lot of scams around but they all follow similar patterns and if you delete any cold text that asks for money or details and put the phone down on any cold call, especially if it plays a recorded message, you can’t go wrong.

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‘Free speech’ irrelevant to Batley cartoon row

Indigo Jo Blogs - 27 March, 2021 - 10:53
A 17th-century stone school building behind a low stone wall. A silver-grey hatchback car can be seen behind the railings. A yellow parking restrictions sign is in front of the railing.Batley Grammar School

This week a teacher at a school in Batley, Yorkshire was suspended after showing his year 9 (aged 13-14) pupils, some of them Muslims, a cartoon originating with the French magazine Charlie Hebdo depicting the Prophet Muhammad (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) with the exaggerated facial features characteristic of that publication and a bomb in his turban, then invited the class to discuss whether they or the attackers were to blame for the massacre of their writers and staff. This has led to demonstrations outside the school by a group of angry Muslim parents demanding he be sacked and/or charged with inciting hatred on religious grounds; the school has reverted to online learning as it had been until the beginning of March. What I want to discuss here is a detail I was told on social media: that the teacher told his pupils that some of them would find it offensive, but that it was his right to freedom of expression, as per “British values”, to do so. Similar claims have been made by others, often with the suggestion that Muslims could leave the country if they do not like it. There has also been criticism of the school for suspending the teacher; they have been accused of caving in to the ‘mob’ (which was actually an orderly group of protesters) while the local authority has been accused among other things of not considering how the matter affects “the overall health of British democracy” by not coming out in condemnation (the school is an academy so out of their control).

To put it simply, free speech is not relevant if you are a teacher in front of a group of pupils. It applies in wider society and the media; anyone can criticise any political figure, any religious figure past or present, any industrialist or entrepreneur or pop star they like as long as they do not incite violence or make false claims about a living person. The difference between someone like Rod Liddle writing some offensive drivel in the Spectator and a teacher spouting the same stuff in front of a group of 13- and 14-year-olds is that we can call Rod Liddle a jerk (or worse) and face no consequences. A pupil who says the same to a racist teacher could be punished; although it’s no longer legal to physically assault them, they could be sent out of class, be kept behind after school or lose their place in an extra-curricular activity. A teacher who shares this kind of material is also sowing the seeds of racism and bullying among the pupils and giving them the impression that this is acceptable or that the ideas are true or valid. Teachers have responsibility; their freedom of speech is something they leave at the gate or at least the staff room door. (In the recent past, teachers were not allowed to tell pupils anything that gave the impression that homosexuality was acceptable, and civil servants are not allowed to express political opinions in public to preserve the institution’s neutrality. So, the right to cause offence isn’t that much of a British value; it has its limits.)

The Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) forbade depictions of human beings or animals, and the Sahaba (may Allah be pleased with him) accordingly left no visual representations of themselves or him. We have to rely on verbal descriptions of his physical form but, most importantly, his words and behaviour and the same is true of every mainstream Muslim scholar and leader until the advent of photography. Most scholars regard photographs not to be equivalent to hand-drawn pictures and many will allow students and others to take pictures of them, though not all. The upshot is that such pictures tend to be drawn by those with hostile intent. The Danish cartoons were not only derogatory to the Prophet himself but were also racist: they represented a stereotype of a nasty Arab with an angry, brooding face and the obligatory bomb in the turban, an image repeated in one of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. The bomb gives the clear impression that terrorism has approval from the very top, which (even taking into account the fact that gunpowder and bombs had not been invented in the 7th century) it actually does not; vigilantism and banditry are not allowed in Islam at all.

The Danish cartoons are 16 years old, older than the children involved in this latest incident. As the cartoons are a historical fact, it may become necessary to reproduce them to show people what the fuss was about (I do not need to do so here; you can google them). In my opinion, it is not an insult to reproduce them; the insult is in claiming they are of the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), as the newspaper that commissioned them did when it published them, rather than a mere ugly stereotype of an Arab. An ugly, threatening man in a turban would more likely make Muslims think of Abu Jahl (Mr Ignorance), the violent pagan enemy of the early Muslims, or some modern Hindu extremists as the turban is popular among Hindus as well as Muslims. However, it isn’t a teacher’s place to force this issue on a group of 13-year-olds, cavalierly justifying it as his “free speech”, without a thought to the consequences for them. It’s true, there is no blasphemy law in this country anymore and there never was one about Islam, and non-Muslims are not expected to observe every detail of Islamic law about how Islam or the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) is talked about, in our presence or otherwise, but teachers are in a position of trust and are supposed to consider their pupils’ well-being and maintaining peace and order in their schools when conducting lessons and choosing material. If teachers fail to do this, they must be disciplined and sacked if necessary. It’s an internal matter and what the rest of the country thinks is of no importance.

Image source: J Thomas, via Geograph. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 2.0 licence.

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