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Romanticising the bad old days

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 October, 2019 - 22:59
A 1950s cigarette advert featuring a white man smoking a cigarette, wearing a white coat with a dark tie, with the slogan "According to a recent nationwide survey, More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette".Cigarette ads of the time claimed they were healthy (this was American, but similarly misleading adverts were found here too.)

The other day I saw a meme which consisted of a list of what British food was like in the 1950s, presumably when the author was young, and it claimed that much of the food we eat now had either not been invented, had a completely different use or the word used for it meant something completely different. Pasta had not been invented, Curry was a surname, pizza was “something to do with a leaning tower”, prunes were medicinal, Indian restaurants were only found in India, sugar was thought of as “white gold” and cubes were posh, and muesli was readily available and called cattle feed. The last thing on the list is “the one thing we never had on our tables: our elbows”. This is clearly an attempt to romanticise the 50s as a time when things were simpler and people had better manners than they have today. However, these things aren’t true, and most of this list is not either.

To begin with: in the 50s, Britain was already changing and people had already started to move here from what was still mostly the Empire (the Indian part was already independent, but Britain still had its African and Caribbean colonies). We already had large Jewish, Irish and Italian populations. Pasta had, of course, been invented; it just wasn’t popular in the UK, other than, presumably, in the Italian community. Rationing, which had been imposed during the War, persisted through the Attlee years and was only abolished by the Tory government in the early 1950s, so the national diet was still somewhat restricted and the supply of things like fat was still very controlled and nobody wasted anything; my mother remembers her mother scraping every last bit of butter off the packet; sugar was only starting to become available again, hence its “white gold” reputation, and the negative effects of too much of it were not really considered (smoking was, of course, not thought harmful either, and both tobacco and alcohol were marketed as being healthy when they in fact were not). “Oil was for lubricating; fat was for cooking” the list says, as if we cook our food in the same oil we put in our car (though these days, we are starting to put cooking fat in our cars).

These days, we have a choice of ingredients and a choice of cuisines both to cook at home and to dine out on. Part of this is because we have a large population which came from the former colonies, and from Europe, and brought their cuisines with them, for their benefit rather than ours. They were not the first people to bring new foods with them, of course; such things as potatoes, peppers and tomatoes, things we could not think of living without today, were brought from the Americas by the Spanish colonists and spread throughout the world — we associate many Indian foods with hot chillis, but these vegetables are not native to India. And as wartime and post-war austerity faded from people’s memories and the country diversified and opened up, people found they liked the variety, and why wouldn’t they? People generally like variety, they like colour, they like things to be tasty and not bland. True, there’s an environmental impact to bringing exotic fruits like bananas and oranges to this country all year round, and we produce plenty of good fruit here, but this list doesn’t mention the environment; it just looks back to when “we never had any of this and we were strong” etc.

Britain was not a utopia in the 1950s. True, there was full employment because of the post-war settlement and if you were middle-class or ‘solidly’ working class, you would have had quite a comfortable life by the standards of that time. But if you were a woman, you were expected to stop work after you married (hence the home-cooked food and absence of ‘convenience’ foods); if you were Black, you could be discriminated against and had no redress; if you were disabled, you might well have spent decades in an institution and at best faced a world that made no effort to accommodate you; if you were mentally ill, you could also be locked up for years and suffer experimental treatments that might leave you brain-damaged. Why would anyone romanticise this era on the basis of what the average person did not have access to, what was bad about that time? Ultimately the message seems to be that Britain was better when it was a whiter and more homogeneous country and that the variety we enjoy now is the product of immigration and of the ‘softening-up’ of the population. Before you share a meme like this, please remember that it is essentially a racist message.

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In Iraq, religious ‘pleasure marriages’ are a front for child prostitution

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 October, 2019 - 09:22
BBC investigation exposes Shia clerics in Baghdad advising men on how to abuse girls

I’m walking through the security cordon that leads into Kadhimiyah, one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites. I’m in a queue, along with dozens of pilgrims who have come from all over the world to pay their respects to the shrine of Imam Kadhim. At the gate, a female security guard pats me down and looks into my handbag, a reminder that the story I’m reporting on here isn’t going to be easy.

As I walk around the market stalls surrounding the shrine, I notice the many “marriage offices” dotted around the mosque, which are licensed to perform Sharia marriages. I’d received tips that some clerics here were performing short-term mutaa [pleasure] marriages, a practice – illegal under Iraqi law – whereby a men can pay for a temporary wife, with the officiating cleric receiving a cut.

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From ‘our girls’ to ‘brides of Isis’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 October, 2019 - 07:00

How were bright British Muslim girls lured into joining Isis? Azadeh Moaveni travelled to Turkey, Syria and Tunisia to find out

When the Bethnal Green schoolgirls disappeared off the streets of east London in early 2015, never showing up at home for dinner and instead boarding flights to Istanbul, their parents hadn’t the slightest inkling. The first to leave had been Sharmeena Begum. She left to join Isis, followed two months later by Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana and Shamima Begum (no relation). Just last week, Priti Patel said “no way” could Shamima return to the UK. The girls were bubbly and well-liked at school and seemed like model British Muslim girls: studious, respectful – and walking the delicate line between conservative home environments and liberal modern London.

I found myself transfixed by the girls’ defection to Isis, but even more so by the news coverage, the viciousness of it and the swift excommunication of the girls from Britishness. They quickly went from being “our girls” – 15-year-olds who had been groomed by sophisticated predators – to “brides of jihad”.

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Riots don’t start; people start them

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 October, 2019 - 23:41
Picture of Tulsi Gabbard, a woman of South Asian appearance with light brown skin and shoulder-length black hair, wearing a fitted white jacket over a black skirt or pair of trousers, standing in front of a small sign saying "Tulsi 2020" with an American flag hanging from a pole next to her.Tulsi Gabbard

There is a video going round on Twitter of the American senator Tulsi Gabbard responding to a question about the Indian prime minister’s role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, in which hundreds or possibly thousands of people were killed in three days of violence instigated by Hindu nationalists in response to a fire on a train in which 59 people were killed. The woman observed that she had served as “one of the major rehabilitations (sic) of Modi’s perception here [in the US]”, then proceeded to say that Modi had been accused of complicity in the 2002 violence. Gabbard responded by asking “do you know what instigated those riots?”, which the woman did not appear to know the answer to. The Indian section of Yahoo News has an account of the incident illustrated by a few tweets supportive of Gabbard and Modi and in some cases insulting to the questioner.

As anyone who remembers the violence (which was 17 years ago, which means a young adult who was not there will not) will also remember, the pogrom followed the train fire which at the time was blamed on Muslim vendors at Godhra train station (an official story was that it was done under orders from Pakistan, which has been described as baseless) who had been subject to abuse and harassment from the temple pilgrims on the train (the temple in question being the one in Ayodhya, on the site of a mosque which was torn down by a Hindu mob in 1992), but more recent inquiries suggest that it was started by someone on the train by accident. However, many Hindus still seem to believe that it was started by Muslims in revenge for the destruction of the mosque, and when I mention Modi’s responsibility for the pogrom, I have had Hindus in my mentions telling me that the violence was in response to the train fire, as if this justifies it. Today, when I told one of them that the riots took place all over Gujarat rather than being targeted at the supposed train attackers, I was told that the victims of the train fire came from all over Gujarat. Now we have an American senator repeating the same line of argument when a member of the public draws attention to Modi’s record.

A few facts about the pogrom should be stated here. One is that there is significant evidence of the violence being premeditated and well-planned: for example, businesses were attacked whose names were suggestive of Hindu ownership when the actual owners were Muslim. So, at best the planners did their research and at worst, they were assisted by people in the government who knew who owned which properties. Another is the extreme savagery and brutality of it: some 250 women and girls were gang-raped and then burned to death; in other cases, pregnant women had their babies cut out of them, families were electrocuted inside houses the attackers had flooded, children were speared and then held up. Local media have described the violence as “state terrorism”, citing politicians’ utterances (including Modi’s) which stoked tensions in the aftermath of the Godhra fire, and the fact that in many incidents, police looked on and did nothing (including where the station was next door to a site being attacked) or even joined in; the state took no action to prevent a strike called by Hindu nationalists after the fire, which was illegal and such strikes had commonly been associated with communal violence in the past.

Using this logic, we could blame almost any atrocity or any act of terrorism on something done by people with some connection to the victims and thereby justify it. Yet, we do not do this; in fact, we protest loudly when someone tries to in regard to terrorism, even when the perpetrators are oppressed people. Hindus in Gujarat were not oppressed, at least not by Muslims; yes, many live in poverty, but they are the majority and their aspirations to dominance are supported by the state, even when the Congress party are in charge, let alone when Hindu nationalists are. This was not a people spontaneously reacting to an atrocity committed against them; it was not an intifada. It was a planned atrocity by a majority population seeking to put an ‘uppity’ minority in its place, and the same movement, now in charge of the Indian federal government, permits a regime like that of the old American South in which Muslims can be lynched for imagined offences against cows. These riots did not just start; people started them. Anyone who cannot see this has no place in any respectable political party or any party which purports to stand for social justice, let alone running as a presidential candidate.

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Gaining my religion: Kanye, Dylan and the pop stars who find God

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 October, 2019 - 16:00

Kanye West has reportedly said he will only be recording gospel from now on – following a trail blazed with mixed results by Bob Dylan, Cat Stevens and Reverend Run

Religion has always been a popular option for celebrities in urgent need of a fresh start because God, unlike Twitter, has a reputation for forgiveness. Kanye West launched his weekly Sunday Service in January after a whirlwind few months during which he swooned over Donald Trump, suggested that slavery was a choice and released the first forgettable album of his career. West has had an inconsistent relationship with his faith. His 2004 single Jesus Walks earned him multiple nominations for Stellar awards (the gospel Grammys) but I Am a God, from the album Yeezus, did not. On the verge of releasing his long-delayed ninth album, Jesus Is King, he seems to be going all in. At a recent listening party, he reportedly declared that he was done with secular music and would be recording only gospel from now on.

In the 1960s, soul music was largely defined by charismatic young gospel stars such as Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin crossing over to secular music, but travelling in the opposite direction poses more of a challenge. While mainstream listeners are by no means allergic to overt expressions of faith — witness, for example, U2, Stormzy, Johnny Cash and vast swathes of reggae — the zeal of the convert is a tougher sell.

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How Mohamed Salah inspired me to become a Muslim

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 October, 2019 - 10:37
I have gone from hating Islam to becoming a Muslim – and the Liverpool forward is the principal reason for that

Mohamed Salah really and honestly inspired me. I’m a Nottingham Forest season-ticket holder, I can be myself but because I made the declaration of faith I’m a Muslim. I’m still me and that’s what I took from Mohamed Salah. I’d love to meet him, just to shake his hand and say “Cheers” or “Shukran”.

I don’t think my mates quite believe that I’m a Muslim because I’ve not really changed. I just think my heart is better. I’m really trying to change on match days. Normally it’s pub, put a bet on, then after the game back to the pub and realise you’ve lost a lot of money. It’s hard when you’re used to such a culture and it’s part of football for a lot of people.

Related: Salah, Pogba, Özil … the Muslim heroes of English football

Salah showed me that you can be normal and a Muslim, if that’s the right phrase. You can be yourself.

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Conservative conference fringe meeting was no ‘Muslim-bashing fest’ | Letter from Peter Tatchell

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 October, 2019 - 18:09
I defended Muslim communities and made concrete proposals to protect Muslims against discrimination, writes Peter Tatchell, who was on the panel at the meeting

Sayeeda Warsi is wrong to say the Policy Exchange fringe meeting at Tory party conference was a “Muslim-bashing fest” (The Tories do not care about Islamophobia, Journal, 1 October).

I was a panellist and can confirm that not a single speaker attacked the Muslim community; though some did critique Islamist extremism. Every speaker, including two Muslim women, condemned anti-Muslim prejudice. Two of us questioned parliament’s sweeping definition of Islamophobia as a potential threat to free speech. That’s all.

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The Guardian view on the People’s Republic of China at 70: whose history? | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 September, 2019 - 19:23

Seven decades of Communist rule have seen notable advances but at horrific cost

The 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, which will be marked on Tuesday by a mass military parade in the heart of Beijing, is less a historical commemoration than a political event. The Communist party of China (CPC) has understood the power of history ever since it seized the reins in 1949: in its earliest days, it encouraged citizens to “recall past bitterness”, to make the New China all the sweeter. Xi Jinping understands history’s importance better than any leader since Mao Zedong. Not long after taking power, he warned his colleagues that “historical nihilism” was an existential threat to the party’s rule on a par with western democracy.

The tanks, planes, troops and missiles tell a story: in 1949, the republic’s 17 aircraft were ordered to fly over twice, to make the display look more impressive. This time the west will watch closely as the People’s Liberation Army unveils new missile, stealth and unmanned vehicle capabilities. The PRC has outlived its big brother, the Soviet Union, and outgrown western economies. Yet it now faces new challenges.

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