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This is a Brexit election

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 April, 2017 - 22:49

A front page from the Daily Mail, showing Theresa May's face with the headline "In a stunning move, Mrs May calls bluff of the 'game-playing' Remoaners (including 'unelected' Lords) with a snap election and vows to ... Crush the Saboteurs".So, Theresa May has called a general election for 8th June, and Parliament has backed her up. After denying that she would have an election or a re-run of the Brexit referendum ever since she took the leadership, and since panic buttons started getting pressed after the pound sank to less than $1.20 after the pro-Leave vote, she announced yesterday morning that she would have one after all. There are various explanations: one of them was to distract from the news that some 30 individuals, including some Tory MPs, could face prosecution for expenses-related offences from the 2015 election, and another was to avoid a series of by-elections if some of them were imprisoned or disqualified over the charges. Anthony Barnett also suggests that Brexit negotiations with the EU are more difficult than anticipated:

Across the last two weeks it has become clear to May’s team that there will have to be an extensive transitional period. As the Irish Times reported, a senior Irish official in close contact with the UK over Brexit said, ‘I see signs in the contacts that we’re having, both at EU level and with the UK, of a gradual realisation that Brexit in many ways is an act of great self-harm, and that the focus now is on minimising that self-harm’. The only way to do this is with a transition agreement. But the EU have told the May government that if this is what the UK wants it is fine by the EU; however, the UK will have to remain within the full legal framework of the EU and this is non-negotiable.

I also suspect that May wants to take advantage of the weakness of the Labour leader and his unpopularity among the Parliamentary party. So far six Labour MPs have declined to stand for re-election, two of them citing age but one of them (Tom Blenkinsop) explicitly saying that Corbyn’s name is regularly mentioned on doorsteps as a reason why people are not voting Labour and one of them being Gisela Stuart, the pro-Brexit Birmingham Labour MP. However, this is the time for anti-Brexit voters to vote tactically to get pro-EU MPs into the Commons, especially where the incumbent is being replaced with an unknown or a pro-Leave MP is occupying a pro-Remain constituency.

I have seen a number of Facebook posts and a blog post telling us why they won’t be voting Lib Dem this time or why we shouldn’t. The major arguments are that the Lib Dems betrayed their voters, and everyone, in the Coalition and have said they would return to coalition with the Tories. However, they formed a coalition with the Tories under its former pro-EU leadership; that leadership has gone and has been replaced by one that is against everything the Lib Dems claim to stand for, including the Human Rights Act which I was personally assured was non-negotiable in the run-up to the 2015 election. A pro-Brexit minority Tory government would more likely seek support from Labour Brexiteers (and the DUP) than from the Lib Dems.

A second argument is that we should be concentrating on the NHS and the welfare state rather than on Brexit. In fact, there is no contradiction: both Brexit and cuts to the NHS, welfare and disability benefits, Legal Aid and a whole lot of other issues can be fought by voting tactically. The current Brexit situation means that, for example, if you are on disability benefits and even if you are not losing yours, which a number of people of my acquaintance are, they will go a lot further if the currency recovers because we import a lot of our food (fresh fruit and vegetables, for example), and we also import a lot of the things disabled people rely on, such as incontinence pads, and they’ve gone up since the currency crashed (or your health service may be supplying inferior leaky ones as the decent ones have gone up in price) — powerchairs from Sweden are going to be even further out of reach. As a country with a very weak manufacturing base, we need a strong currency if we’re going to maintain a decent health and education system. It’s surely no coincidence that the pound recovered value when the election was announced: traders thought “phew, maybe there might be an end to this madness after all”.

Third, Tim Farron’s views on abortion and homosexuality have mysteriously become the focus of discussion despite his having been the leader of the party since 2015. In answer to that: (i) those things aren’t party policy; (ii) if you’re not in Westmoreland, which is basically the area surrounding Tebay services on the M6, you can’t vote for him and (iii) he’s not going to be dictator for life and (iv) Farron in any case has a generally pro-gay voting record. His personal views are just that.

I’m not suggesting, in any case, that everyone get out and vote Lib Dem, much less join them. If you have a strong Labour MP who is both strongly anti-cuts and pro-EU, by all means vote for them. If you’re in one of the constituencies that narrowly went blue last time (e.g, Gower), vote Labour. But if you’re in an area like mine where the Lib Dems are the nearest thing to an opposition to the Tories, voting for an unknown Labour candidate (as they will almost certainly put up an inexperienced candidate who is trying to get a bit of practice) is pointless. In the Richmond by-election last year, Labour put up Christian Wolmar, a well-known pro-rail campaigner, but he lost hand-over-fist to an unknown Lib Dem; the Liberal Democrats had held the seat until 2010. But if there is a chance of unseating an unprincipled or cowardly Labour MP by voting Lib Dem (and not getting a Tory), this is something that should be considered.

There is a spreadsheet here on Google Docs giving a guide to tactical voting (it was Ava Vidal who alerted me to it; not sure if she is the author), which I broadly endorse but would advise readers to consider the views of any Labour MP on Brexit before voting for them, especially if the Lib Dems are in second place and they are running a strong campaign locally on Brexit. Similarly, in pro-Remain Tory seats like Maidenhead (Theresa May’s constituency) and Wokingham (John Redwood’s), if the Lib Dems are running a strong anti-Brexit campaign, it might be more profitable to vote for them than for an unknown Labour candidate — local voters probably do not take kindly to being called “Remoaners” or “saboteurs” by their MP or her cheerleading press (see image above). Their best chance of regaining seats is to target these places rather than their old seats in the south-west that then voted for Brexit last June. Lib Dems should also be on guard for last-minute pull-outs of right-wing Labour candidates intending to wreck things for Jeremy Corbyn, and should also consider putting fresh candidates up rather than pre-2015 MPs who lost. (Disappointingly, both Vince Cable and Ed Davey are standing to re-take the seats they lost in 2015.)

This is going to be a “nose peg” election for many people, much as was the case for many who voted for Labour during the Blair years, and particularly after the Iraq war in 2005. I believe that stopping Brexit in its tracks must be a priority for the 48% who voted against, who may be joined by many who have changed their minds or who did not (or could not) vote last time round, and 48% is a figure that wins elections if the 52% are divided. This is a vital short-term goal; rebuilding what the Tories have destroyed since 2010 will take a lot longer. It is vital that the local parties act wisely, that weak or tainted Lib Dems do not run against strong anti-Brexit Labour MPs, and that strong pro-Brexit candidates do not oppose each other simply because party rules say they have to. As Labour is in huge danger, both from the unpopularity of Corbyn and the treachery of some of its MPs, it is imperative that both Remainers and anti-cuts voters get out and vote, and vote wisely. If that means voting Lib Dem, so be it.

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The Difference Between Ibn Ali And Everyone Else (The Need For Authentic Dawah)

Muslim Matters - 18 April, 2017 - 20:19

By Nurriddeen Knight

I’m not sure if I ever interacted with Ibn Ali, I just noticed him, and later his wife and kids, among those sitting in an Islamic class in Masjid Muhammad of Atlantic City —seeing a family learning together were reason enough to smile. Recently that man that I only happened to notice in an Islamic class became the object of nationwide attention for being the star of an unusual viral fight video. Sadly, teens now not only have to live with the consequences of their classmates knowing they got beat up in a fight -they must also deal with humiliation on the Internet. That’s exactly what Ibn Ali feared when he broke up a fight between two young men as their so called friends (as Ibn Ali cautioned them, are they your real friends?) recorded the scene on their phones. He advised the boys to think about the consequences of fighting only to become the subject of someone else’s cheap entertainment, they were men now and maybe this wasn’t the course of action they wanted to take. He not only ended the fight but made the boys shake hands. This act of leadership and humanity towards a group so often demonized (black + men + teenagers) propelled Ibn Ali to instant fame as a local hero and do-gooder.

There’s a lot of ways instant Internet fame can go wrong. So many people good, bad or otherwise become absolutely unbearable when the spotlight reaches them. So many of us have no real purpose in life or otherwise that we don’t know how to use fame if we ever achieve it. So much so that I fear for people who achieve instant fame. There’s probably few other surefire ways to lose one’s soul. But Ibn Ali clearly had a message despite his being plucked from obscurity and not asking for fame. Why did he do it? Because he’s Muslim and that’s what Muslims do. That simple line is the most honest bit of dawah I’ve heard from any Muslim in the limelight (momentary or otherwise).

Ibn Ali brought up Islam when he didn’t have to. He pointed people to Islam, he didn’t run away from it. And he gave God and Islam credit for his good deed. Does this sound familiar? No, not at all. The unwritten script amongst Muslims these days is to avoid at all costs talking about Islam and Muslims if one does talk about it be vague; if controversy comes up, deflect; and make being Muslim as normal and as inconsequential as eating apple pie -which you must insist you like a lot.

This is largely the fault of Muslim leadership in America turning away from black Muslims and toward immigrant Muslims. Despite our shared faith, we have completely different sociopolitical realities. Black Muslims could care less about being accepted by the mainstream -when you’ve been rejected from the beginning of your forced migration eventually you become indifferent to their acceptance. Immigrant Muslims, on the other hand, choose to leave their countries in search of the American dream which includes acceptance by the mainstream. A project that was going fine until 9/11. That connection to foreign terror made immigrant Muslims have to fight for acceptance in a way they never had -which explains the nauseating “I’m just like you” rhetoric. But Black Muslims like Ibn Ali have a strange freedom only allowed to outcasts, to basically keep being themselves, business as usual.

My dad never stopped wearing the jalabia or kufi after 9/11, it really had nothing to do with him and he never had to prove it didn’t. When many immigrant Muslims talk about Islam they speak from a place of fear when Black Muslims speak about Islam,  we speak out of freedom. That freedom allows for an unadulterated dawah that isn’t concerned with naafsi naafsi.  The concern is not how will this make me look?. It’s just concerned with truth. Ibn Ali didn’t set out to do a dawah campaign and in reality, we don’t need to. With out any money, fancy lights, or professional cameras, Allah chose Ibn Ali to speak and to say “Islam is the reason why I’m on the right path”.

Is that a good PR answer? Is that the kind of answer that with make Americans cozy? Was it well researched for virality? No, but it is exactly the kind of dawah that makes a real impact and changes hearts for the better.

Nuriddeen Knight is an interdisciplinary instructor, writer and counselor. See her initiative: Nooralshadhili.com and read more from her blog: bythefigandtheolive.com

Lessons from a Rockstar

Muslim Matters - 18 April, 2017 - 15:49

As we stood in line to ride our next roller coaster, Ahmad and I didn’t realize that someone was listening in on our conversation.  We stood there talking about a lot of different things on that hot summer day trying to pass the time of the long wait.  I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but it was enough to have the person in front of us in line turn around and ask, “Are you guys Muslim?”  Just his pronunciation of the word “Muslim” made my hair stand up.  His dirty tank top, ripped up jeans, scruffy face, and long, shaggy hair made us wonder what kind of ignorant statement might come next.

“Yes, we are,” we responded.

He then continued, “I used to play in a rock band.  We used to jam in my buddy’s basement.  And I remember a couple years ago, I was going through some really tough times in my life.  That’s when I noticed that my buddy had a Quran on his shelf.  So I walked over and picked it up.  I opened it up to any random page, and I put my finger on any random verse.”

What happened next blew us both away.  This scruffy looking wannabe rockstar then proceeded to quote a verse from the Quran in English, with no mistakes as if he sat and memorized it.  Or at the very least, it penetrated his heart for him to know it word for word after all these years.  Allah’s words had clearly had an impact on him. We both recognized the verses from Surat al-Kahf.

“Say, ‘Shall We tell you about the greatest losers in respect to their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life and who believe nevertheless that they are doing good.’”

He continued, “And that verse just hit me!  I thought, man, what am I doing with my life?  What am I really doing?”  He then continued his story, “Then some time passed, and I went about my life.  And about a year later, I started going through some really tough times again.  So I went back to my buddy’s house and grabbed the Quran off his shelf again.  I opened it to any random page and put my finger down on any random verse,” he said as he gestured opening a book and pointing into it.  “Same exact verse man!!  Same exact verse!”  He then looked up towards the sky and pointed his finger up and said, “I hear ya man.  I hear ya.”  Ahmad and I started laughing at his unexpected story.

We spoke to him for a little bit longer and before we knew it, it was time to get on the ride.  After we said our goodbyes, never to see this man again, Ahmad and I were amused with the whole situation and this man’s story.  We joked about how crazy we thought our whole conversation was.

It wasn’t until later when I thought about our conversation that I felt that there was a lesson to be learned from the rockstar that Allah sent us that hot summer day.  I had to ask myself, when was the last time I turned to the Quran when I was going through tough times – taking the opportunity to hear what Allah has to say to me?  I thought to myself, don’t I have as much right to the Quran as he does?  It reminded me of a couplet I heard once before:

“Say, ‘Shall We tell you about the greatest losers in respect to their deeds?  Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life and who believe nevertheless that they are doing good.’”

The United Airlines school of Sufism

Indigo Jo Blogs - 18 April, 2017 - 14:18

Image of Muslim women in various colour headscarves kneeling in prayerLast week there was outrage after a man was manhandled off a United Airlines plane in Chicago, having boarded and taken the seat he had paid for, when the airline decided that their crew needed his seat more than he, a doctor with patients to attend to in Louisville, did. There was much outrage on Muslim social media, despite the fact that the man was not a Muslim, I suspect because we all knew it could have been one of us, and if it had been, the outrage would have been shared much less widely. A number of other stories of people being removed from aeroplanes after boarding or refused boarding in the first place because the plane had been overbooked, a scam in which airlines deliberately sell more tickets than there are seats on the plane, anticipating that some passengers will not show and they can pocket the difference. Usually, the passenger can be accommodated on a later flight, but this can often be much later.

Over the weekend, a Muslim lady called Shagufta Yaqub (the former editor of the British Muslim magazine, Q-News) posted an article on Medium in which she described how ladies who attended a talk by a well-known Muslim scholar in Birmingham were ejected from the hall when prayer time came before the talk could begin, and a number of Muslim men turned up late. The sisters ended up waiting in a hot, cramped hallway and staircase while more men arrived, and were ultimately expected to sit in a room downstairs where they could not hear the speaker (this was the organisers’ decision, not the shaikh’s). Shagufta and two of her friends decided to enter the main hall, at one point joined by a fourth woman, but the rest of the women attending resigned themselves to being second place yet again:

Tired, frustrated but surprisingly compliant, the women quietly expressed their disappointment among themselves and returned downstairs to a room where they would not be able to see the speaker deliver his talk or be part of the event experience. The only reassurance they received was that the Shaykh would briefly visit them after the talk and perform tahneek on their babies. There were whisperings of discontent but no real objection. Had that been evidence of spiritually elevated souls accepting a misfortune without complaint I would have been in awe of them. Instead there seemed to be an acceptance that this kind of treatment was part and parcel of being a woman at a religious gathering — a humiliation I am sure many of them would not stand for in any other aspect of their lives.

I saw parallels between this event and the United Airlines incident — the sisters were, granted, not ejected with force, although this actually did happen recently in a London mosque where the management had decided that there was no longer room for women. But the sisters had come on time to an event that had been advertised as being for men and women, and I don’t doubt that many had come from a long distance to hear the shaikh. It’s usually considered the height of bad manners for a host to remove a guest when they have taken their seat, unless it had clearly been reserved for someone else or, for example, they were a single person taking up a space designed for eight, when eight people needed it. It was not only that women who had arrived on time or early were ejected from the main hall to make way for men who had arrived late, and that the first thing that clearly came to the organisers’ minds when the influx occurred was “let’s just push the women aside”; it’s that promises were broken and Muslims didn’t keep their word. On top of this, we see the common lax attitude among Muslims to timekeeping raise its head, the issue which results in many an “Asian wedding” drag on much longer than it should, inconveniencing the guests, particularly those waiting at the reception.

We howl when airlines and other organisations outside the community that hold power over us treat us with contempt, yet — despite all the rhetoric about how Islam empowers women (Shagufta Yaquoub noted in her piece that Muslim men often take great care to accommodate non-Muslim women) — this is how we treat them when they make the effort to come out and seek knowledge, and pay for it, and besides the obvious disrespect, having them wait for an extended period in a staircase and a hallway is a fire risk to them and others (as was pointed out when this was discussed on Facebook). Let us not forget that it was children who were shunted aside as well as women; if this happens often, it will give them the impression that Islamic events will always be a source of discomfort and unpleasantness and, if they are girls, that they do not matter as much as the men. This should never be allowed to happen again.

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Pictures from the Devil’s Punch Bowl

Indigo Jo Blogs - 16 April, 2017 - 21:58

Devil's Punch Bowl, 16th April 2017One of my favourite parts of being a truck driver used to be driving down to Portsmouth, as this involved driving through the Devil’s Punch Bowl in west Surrey: the road used to skirt the side of a natural amphitheatre, producing sudden and spectacular views — but also, an awful lot of slow traffic, so it was best not to hit it at peak times. Then in 2011 they opened a tunnel under the site and closed and demolished the old road, which is now a track open to pedestrians and cyclists. I drove out there earlier this afternoon and walked along the old road, taking pictures of both the scenery and the trees.

I mostly kept to the old road, most of which is now a dirt track; heather was planted along the path not long after the old road was removed (or buried; reports differ), but there is an awful lot of gorse growing both beside and on the route itself. At points the road looked somewhat eroded, sloping down into the bowl, which raises the question of whether the road will always be open for pedestrians or whether it will go the same way as the old road across Mam Tor in Derbyshire. At other points there was no single track but several little ones, none of them wide enough for, say, a wheelchair; there are also points where the track goes over an artificial steep bank or a sandbar has been built over most of the width of the track (I actually saw children cycle over these when a young girl in a wheelchair was on the other side). Given that the road was a road, it makes sense to keep it open as an accessible track; there are plenty of little paths that require climbing and scrambling, including at Hindhead.

Here’s a video shot just before the tunnel opened, showing what the road used to be like:

A few weeks ago I drove down to Midhurst in Sussex, which as well as being a pretty little town, features a ruined old mansion with a walled garden which, although not spectacular in early April, is likely to be lovely in late May as I was told. You can find the pictures here and the website for the garden here.

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Shame on those who preach intolerance in the name of Christianity | Catherine Pepinster

The Guardian World news: Islam - 16 April, 2017 - 00:05
All across the continent, compassion has run dry as the right ignores the Gospel lessons

It is chocolate time for French children this morning, thanks to les cloches volantes – the flying bells. Legend has it that France’s church bells are silent between Good Friday and Easter Sunday because they fly to Rome to be blessed by the pope and then return laden with chocolate goodies. Children will be hunting in the grass for them as the bells ring out news of Christ’s resurrection. For a country that has always seemed secular, thanks to its sharp divide between church and state, France remains remarkably Catholic in its traditions.

But it is not Catholicism or other Christian denominations that have dominated political discourse about religion in France in recent years. It is Islam that has filled the headlines, due, first, to a preoccupation with mass migration from the Middle East and France’s former colonies in Africa, and, more recently, with Islamist attacks in Paris and Nice. There was also the murder of Father Jacques Hamel last July, killed as he prepared to celebrate Mass. The nation’s distress at the slaying of the priest in front of his altar strengthened identification with the church and moved Catholic opinion further to the right.

Europe seems to be a world turned upside down, where people fear the stranger in their midst

Continue reading...

Lower Thames Crossing: the worst possible option

Indigo Jo Blogs - 15 April, 2017 - 13:48

A map showing the preferred route for the East Thames river crossing, linking the M25 in Essex with the A2 in KentYesterday it was announced that the preferred route for the “East Thames Crossing”, a tunnel under the Thames east of the current easternmost crossing at Dartford, had been announced. The proposed route branches off the M25 north of the current Thurrock interchange, crosses over the A13 where it meets the spur road to Tilbury docks, crosses the Thames in a bored tunnel east of Gravesend before veering south-west to meet the A2 near a village called Thong (in other words, near the last junction on the A2 before it joins the M2). The consultation considered three other routes, among them a variant on the chosen route with additional improvements to the A229, which links the M2 to the M20 at Maidstone. If any of those options should have been chosen, it should have been that one. However, I responded to the consultation and my preferred route would have been none of those, but a new northbound bridge at Dartford.

A map of the junction between the M2 and A229 in Kent, showing the two roundabouts and connecting road in betweenThe A2 is an important regional main road which links London and the Dartford river crossing (which carries traffic to most of northern and eastern England) to the north Kent towns and the Ramsgate ferry port. The main route into Kent is the M20 corridor, which runs further south and reaches Maidstone, Ashford, the Channel Tunnel and Dover — these being the shortest and fastest links between Britain and the Continent (Ramsgate is preferred by British some transport companies for inbound freight, as stowaways usually attempt to board trucks heading for Calais and the tunnel). Any new road link across the Thames into Kent needs to link to the M20 or else it will be pointless, as any private company investing in the new road will want that extra traffic if the road is to be subject to a toll, which it almost certainly will be. Currently the main link is the A229, a short stretch of dual carriageway whose interchanges with both motorways includes multiple roundabouts; if coming from the A229 onto the M2, you may have to stop at several sets of traffic lights in between. Traffic avoiding delays at the A229 junctions will then clog up alternative roads, such as the (much longer) A249, which links the M20 (and the M25 from the west) with Ramsgate and the freight ferry terminal at Sheerness, and the much slower A228, the much narrower A227 and the A260 from Canterbury to Folkestone. Signs will, of course, continue to point freight traffic heading for the Channel Tunnel and Dover via the M20, but any delays on the M25 at Dartford will result in them diverting onto the new road.

A photograph showing three lanes of slow or stationary traffic with a fourth lane coming from a flyover also full of slow or stationary traffic.As a truck driver who has to use the Dartford river crossings fairly frequently, I know that the vast majority of the delays are northbound, caused by traffic having to divide to use the two tunnels, trucks having to clear out of lane 2 because it has a 7.5T weight limit, and most of all, the left tunnel (which is now the only tunnel open to traffic joining at junction 1A for the busy south Thames road as well as those leaving at Purfleet) being regularly closed to escort petrol tankers through. All this causes congestion for traffic along that road as well as other local roads, as well as the approach roads to the tunnel itself — the M25 is frequently congested up to 6 miles away, as is the A2. The solution is to build an extra bridge at Dartford; this would require no vehicle to be escorted, no divisions of traffic and no closures. The tunnels could be retained for use when the bridges are closed because of high winds, or used for regular traffic, providing six lanes in each direction.

The preferred route is probably the worst of all the options, not only because of the above but also because it joins the A2 at a right angle rather than continuing on a straight line into the M2. It will almost certainly be financially unviable, requiring taxpayer bailouts for a private toll road, and the cause of tremendous traffic congestion on all the main roads in mid-Kent. It will make driving in that part of the country a whole lot less enjoyable for everyone. It must not go ahead.

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Shaikh M. Tawhidi, the “Imam” the Haters Love

Loon Watch - 15 April, 2017 - 09:31

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

The Australian imam Shaikh M. Tawhidi is becoming more and more an international celebrity. Some weeks ago he claimed that he was persecuted by “the Australian Muslims” and went into hiding. That made him famous outside Australia. The self proclaimed “Muslim reformist” Ayaan Hirsi Ali has voiced his support of the “imam“.  He is the latest darling of Jihadwatch and Pamela Geller. One Nation, the political party that wants to kick out all “disobedient Muslims” from Australia, loves him. He is a strange imam. Just look at this:

A strange imam indeed. He publicly states that islam is a dangerous religion. He wants to close all islamic schools and believe that no more mosques should be built in Australia. He claims that Muslims in Australia are not protesting against ISIS. He believes that all of Palestine belongs to Israel. And he claims that his father would not have moved to Australia if he had known that so many Muslims would live there in the future.

‘My father wouldn’t have moved from Iran to Australia if he’d known there’d be so many Muslims here’.

He makes an interesting slip of the tongue while speaking on the video above. He says that he does not understand “why Muslims believe” that they come to heaven by blowing themselves up, but corrects himself and say “well radical Muslims”. Interesting slip of the tongue. By “accident” he claims that all Muslims are terrorists.

The slip of the tongue is understandable if you know that Shaikh M. Tawhidi supports a racist political party that hate Muslims.  Here below is one picture he posted on social media recently, when he made offerings of roses to  One Nation posters. One Nation is a radical rightwing party in Australia that hates Muslims.

He supports One Nation and apparently they like him, or what should we say about the frequent posts the party representative in South Australia praising the imam?

Besides this, he apparently is a supporter of a Korean cult:

With his gold-trimmed white robes and pointed turban, the man who calls himself both an Imam and Sheikh cuts an elegant figure as a minder guides him out of the car, past more jubilant Koreans and television cameras, and into the surreal surrounds of an Olympic stadium filled to capacity, where tens of thousands of seated spectators holding coloured cards form a gargantuan human LCD screen.

Here he is ushered to pose for photographs with other similarly well turned-out men of faith, all of whom have been flown in from religious communities across the globe to take part in the World Alliance of Religions Peace (WARP) summit.

But the cheer squads are not really here for Tawhidi, and this is not really a peace conference. These ecstatic young Koreans are members of an allegedly dangerous religious cult taking part in a highly regimented North Korean-style stadium extravaganza to pay tribute to their controversial leader, Lee Man Hee.

Well I can agree with one thing the imam says: we certainly need to scrutinize some of the imams in Australia. Lets begin with the imam Shaikh M. Tawhidi! Who funds him? And why? 

Public Intellectuals and The Confidence of The Ignorant Man In The Information Age

Muslim Matters - 15 April, 2017 - 06:40

In my last article on the American Muslim campaign against established knowledge, scholarship, and academia, I attempted to bring to the forefront of Muslim discourse the current wave of anti-intellectualism and the rise of the “pastime” scholar and public intellectuals. Such a “scholar” has proven to be most destructive to real discourse. He is under increasing pressure to read, understand and formulate an opinion on everything. This pressure, social pressure, for cultural literacy has never been more difficult to maintain. The information age forces each one of us to consume far more information than humanly possible. This has forced many of us to master two skills: perusing and presenting ourselves as informed when in fact we aren’t. Dr Ed Finn, Founding Director of Center of Science of and Imagination, Assistant Professor in the School of Media and Engineering at Arizona State University, explains perfectly, “the gloss and comment have overtaken the article and the book”.[1] Editor and Journalist Karl Taro Greenfield further breaks down this situation on media consumption,

“it’s never been so easy to pretend to know so much without actually knowing anything…What matters to us is not necessarily having actually consumed this content firsthand but simply knowing that it exists- and having a position on it.”[2]

The Information Age’s never ending data streams are exponentially growing,

“In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986— the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.” [3]

This increase in information has forced us to make a critical decision, we either pursue through as much as we can, so that we can pretend to possess a deep cultural literacy or we admit the wisdom in the saying of Prophet Muhammad, “indeed in (the pursuit of) some knowledges there is ignorance” and consciously choose to ignore what doesn’t matter to us. Unfortunately, generally speaking, we have chosen the former. If we follow the logic of Dr. Finn, then we should fear the irreversible death of nuance and even of expertise overall, as more and more people gain a superficial, shallow knowledge of everything.

Following the perspective of Prophet Muhammadﷺ , there is a simple solution to combat the rise of pretension in knowledge and understanding. Understanding that solution requires that we look at why cultural literacy is so important. Perhaps the common situation we encounter of people sharing articles they have not read, will offer insight into the psychological causes behind such an arrogant ignorance.

Why We Share Articles That We Haven’t Read

Perhaps you have found yourself reading the headline of an article and sharing it right away. Sometimes you may go a little deeper into the article or read the section headings just enough to get the author’s gist before you actually share, but the reality is the same. We have created a culture of media sharing. Which means share information before we have actually consumed the information firsthand.

Why would someone share something they haven’t read? Because humans desire Social Currency. Simply put, people want to be liked. They want to be perceived as smart, intelligent, hip, cool, and “in the know” and the first to share. Others work in the media industry or in Muslim advocacy and the onus is even greater on them to substantiate what is being shared. From the Islamic perspective, news should be verified before sharing. Organizations who work in Muslim advocacy have a special responsibility to vet before sharing as they are considered an authoritative source and can contribute to this phenomenon.

By sharing certain types of information they are telling the world, “this is what I consume, I’m cool right?” While this is definitely a low state, I wouldn’t worry too much about the desire to be accepted as part of the group and to be looked upon favorably, as this is naturally inherent in every human being. Social media platforms have normalized this psychological tendency so much that you may start to seem weird if you too do not shop for social currency.

An even more interesting phenomenon is that social currency, like any other currency, is only given value when exchanged between two parties equally. What this means is that just as you raise your social currency by giving out the perception of cultural literacy, likewise, you are forced to accept the fake cultural literacy of other stooges. This is scientifically supported by multiple research studies and is commonly known as “Equity Bias.” This theory holds that smart people will pretend not to know something, while dumb people will pretend to really know a thing, with both doing so for the sake of raising their social currency. Just imagine what would happen if scholars of religion started worrying about their social currency. The Prophetﷺ (peace and blessing be upon him) called this type of interaction mudaahan (sycophancy). Interestingly, this comes from a root word that refers to putting oil on something. This is similar to a common English phrase, “butter him up,” which means to treat someone favorably in order to gain their favor.

So far I have only highlighted a few factors that are impacting the overall culture of anti-intellectualism and the death of nuance. However, perhaps more entertaining are the psychological biases that affect one to one dialogue between experts, academics, scholars, bloggers, and other opinionated critics.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

By far the most frustrating cognitive bias for any expert is the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Although named after its contemporary founders, The Dunning-Kruger Effect was recognized by Islamic scholarship many centuries ago. Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali (d.1111 CE), in his well-known Ihya Uloom Ad-Din, discussed this cognitive bias in a section titled “Scholars of the Hereafter and Evil Scholars.” This theory states that the more ignorant of a subject a person is, the more confident they are that they are not actually ignorant of said subject. David Dunning concluded that humans all overestimate themselves, but the less competent actually do so more than anybody else. As we look at this mental bias, we must bear in mind that all of us are experts in some areas and completely ignorant in others. The place of caution should be the area in which you have received the least amount of formal tutelage. Imam Al-Ghazali explained this bias very elegantly:

رجل يدري و يدري انه يدري فدلك العالم فاتبعوه.
رجل يدري ولا يدري انه يدري فدلك النائم فايقضوه
.
رجل لا يدري و يدري انه لا يدري فدلك مسترشد فعلموه
.
ورجل لا يدري و يدري انه لا يدري فدلك الجاهل فارفضوه.

 

“There are four types of people, a man who knows something and is aware of his knowledge, that is the true scholar so follow him.

Second is the man who knows something but is not cognizant of his knowledge. He is sleeping so wake him up!

The third is the man who doesn’t know something and he is aware of his ignorance. This is a student so teach him.

Last is the man who is unaware of something and is not cognizant of his unawareness. This is an ignorant man so run far away from him.”[4]

Confirmation Bias

It is almost impossible for human beings to remain completely objective while engaging in research and the exchange of information. This natural subjectivity affects how we interpret the world around us. The purpose of rational discourse is to highlight illogical conclusions and faulty reasoning. Confirmation bias teaches us that we often project our fixed ideas on the subjects that we are researching or reading about. The information that supports what we already believe naturally stands out to us, while the information that goes against what we understand as truth seems less significant. It is for this reason that all research and the conclusions derived therefrom need one less invested in the findings of the project to judge the accuracy of those findings. Confirmation bias affects not only how we interpret information but also how we search for information. If you are trying to convince your spouse or best friend that such-and-such a product is healthy, you would most likely do a web search for “health benefits of XYZ.” This is clearly an example of beginning your research with the assumption that you are already correct in your thinking. Experts, of course, are not exempt from natural human tendencies like confirmation bias; however, academic discussions by design and structure seek to avoid irrational thought and discourse based on emotion.

Stop Stereotyping! I’m not, I’m generalizing 

It is common knowledge that stereotyping is not a good thing and does not represent a sound basis for discussion. What is not common knowledge though is that stereotypes and generalizations are not the same things. One is a judgment, while the other is the result of scientific research that should lead to further exploration and analysis. This failure to differentiate between the two is a problem and hinders effective discourse. While stereotyping is a bad social habit, generalization is in fact at the root of all science. Generalizations such as, “people in America are taller than people in India,” are scientifically supported by evidence. The non-expert, when exposed to such generalizations, immediately looks to the exception to the generalization, i.e. a particularly tall Indian athlete (Sim Bhular). Even worse, this subtle difference between stereotypes and generalization is often completely rejected when it is a negative generalization. And therein is another difference between experts and laypeople. Emotional detachment and an attempt to remain completely objective are clear and distinguishable signs of an experts approach to intellectual discourse.

Where Do We Go From Here?

The desire for elevated social currency forces the individual to constantly check how each action and share will affect his or her status. This has terrible effects on sincerity and prevents individuals from focusing on who they really are. The next time you share something ask yourself, “Why am I sharing this?” If your whole life has become one long share, then know that it is time to wake up.

Secondly, research in the area of cognitive bias highlights that our ability to interpret events and information is deeply affected by our cognitive states, emotions and past experiences. We have a collective responsibility to recenter issue discussions around the expert who are at least attempting to reduce the influence of cognitive biases and emotions on our conclusions.

Lastly, I would like to remind that the mere amount of media shared daily has far exceeded the limits of healthy consumption.

“In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986—the equivalent of 175 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes or 100,000 words every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of 5 hours of television each day, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images. That’s not counting YouTube, which uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour. And computer gaming? It consumes more bytes than all other media put together, including DVDs, TV, books, magazines, and the Internet.”[5]

The Prophet ﷺ taught us the seek out beneficial knowledge and emphasized that “seeking some types of knowledge can be a source of ignorance”. In the age of information overload trying to be an informed specialist on everything will snatch away your spiritual and mental health. Admitting ignorance is a sign of true intelligence, and will bring back mental health. The Prophet Muhammad said, “Half of knowledge is saying, I don’t know.” Perhaps this Prophetic narration predicts the subsequent death of established knowledge when everyone thinks they know everything.

Finally, this short article does not attempt to exhaust the factors influencing the death of nuance and expertise, rather it serves as a warning and a wake-up call regarding the direction we seem to be heading in.

 

[1] What Algorithms want, Ed Finn 2017 MIT Press

[2] Death i=of Expertise Tom Nichols 2017 Oxford Press

[3] The Organized Mind, Daniel J. Levitin 2016

[4] احياء العلوم الدين , كتاب العلم

[5] The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

by Daniel J. Levitin

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