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Prevent scheme could be made compulsory, police lead says

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 August, 2017 - 17:25

Simon Cole says government and police are discussing whether some people should be compelled to be deradicalised

The official scheme aiming to keep people from being lured by terrorist propaganda may be made compulsory, after a police chief revealed that children as young as five are being shown beheading videos by their families.

Simon Cole, police lead for the deradicalisation scheme Prevent, said police and government have been discussing if some people need to be forced to take part.

Related: Anti-radicalisation chief says ministers' plans risk creating 'thought police'

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Bella Hadid: ‘It took me until this year to really understand my face’

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 August, 2017 - 15:57

The supermodel with 14 million Instagram followers may have marched against Trump’s Muslim ban, but she’s happier debunking her ‘mean and intimidating’ image than talking politics

Not long ago, the most high-profile thing a supermodel could do with her mobile phone was throw it at an underling’s head. How times have changed. Now, the world’s most powerful models run empires from their handheld devices and are as unlikely to be caught in a public tantrum as they are to eat a box of doughnuts.

Bella Hadid is one such smartphone supermodel. Keen students of Hadidology will be aware that the 20-year-old has 14.2 million Instagram followers. They will also know her backstory. Hadid broke into fashion two years after her sister, fellow model Gigi Hadid, became globally successful. Before that, the sisters were peripheral characters on glossy reality TV show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, in which their mother, Dutch-American model Yolanda Hadid, was a key player. Their father is millionaire real-estate developer Mohamed Hadid, who is originally from Palestine.

Related: Gigi Hadid: a model with a fabulous figure – 30m followers | Observer profile

My Instagram is like your Instagram. If I look cute then my friends are going to take a photo, but it’s not contrived

Couple ladies on a boat

I feel like we are finally doing something for fashion that can make the world better

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Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 10 – Finding Tarek

Muslim Matters - 9 August, 2017 - 13:11

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Zaid Karim Private Investigator is a full length novel. Previous chapters: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9

Note to Readers:

As of August 1st 2017 I’ve made many changes in the previous chapters, so you might want to go back and re-read. For those who don’t have time, here’s a summary of the most important changes:

  • Chapter 1 – I added the fact that Zaid received a presidential pardon for his crimes and was released from prison. The specific incident leading to this has not yet been described.
  • Chapter 4 – Zaid’s wife was previously a nurse. Now she is a teacher at FIA, the Fresno Islamic Academy. Previously they met for the first time as teenagers at summer camp. This has been changed so they met as children in elementary school, lost contact, then met again at camp.
  • Chapter 5 – A discovery Zaid made about Anna has been removed. If you know what I mean, please do not mention it. I apologize that the surprise is spoiled for you. This is one of the drawbacks in writing serially like this.
  • Chapter 5 – I added a new character – Yusuf Cruz, an old prison buddy from Panama.
  • Chapter 6 – In the fight with the Asian gangsters, the gangsters were specifically looking for Tarek, for reasons unknown.

Friday, February 5, 2010 – 4:00 pm
Fresno, California

The hotel lobby was a chamber of horrors. It was dimly and strangely lit by a few isolated slivers of sunshine that managed to worm their way through gaps in the boarding that covered the windows, and by the pale light of a butane torch that sat on the floor, hissing with a steady blue flame. Beside the burner a shirtless man slept half on and half off a mattress that was stained and sporting large burn holes.

The room reeked of bodily fluids, urine, burned plastic and cigarette smoke. Litter was strewn everywhere: empty liquor bottles, used syringes, crack vials of every color, latex gloves, fast food takeout containers, playing cards, cigarette butts and ash, bottles of malt liquor filled with what looked like urine, and other miscellaneous garbage.

There were also people. Some were teens, while others were as old as fifty or sixty – it was hard to tell, as they were all thin and aged, worn out before their time. Many were unconscious or asleep, sprawled on the few pieces of dirty furniture, or on the floor. Others stood against the walls, looking predatory and alien in the weird light. A few of these stared at me, and one made a move in my direction. I slid my hand down to my thigh to rest on my knife, and the man stopped, returning to his perch against the wall.

There were also scenes of depravity that I will not describe. Suffice it to say that desperate women trading their bodies for drugs has always been one of the sick pillars of drug culture.

I remained in that room only long enough to ascertain that none of the occupants were Tarek. Then I went down a corridor and past a restroom with a broken mirror, a shattered urinal and a foul toilet. I came to the hotel rooms and began to search room by room.

Many of the rooms did not have doors, and those that did had no working locks. Most were unoccupied and defaced with graffiti, littered with trash or fouled with waste. In a few, addicts slept on the floor or on dirty mattresses. Most ignored me. A few cursed at me. One threw an empty shampoo bottle at me. One young man with a pink mohawk and rotten teeth leaped up and attacked me the instant I opened the door. I drove him back with a hard kick to the belly and moved on as he lay on the floor moaning. I felt like I was in a horror movie: the last human in a world full of zombies, looking for one particular zombie who was not fully turned and could possibly be saved.

I completed my search of the first floor and moved on to the second. It was more of the same. Moving up to the third floor, I had to step over a family that was camped on the staircase. The scene was revolting and too miserable to describe. Finally I completed my search of the fourth and final floor. I felt overexposed and feverish, as if I’d been exposed to radiation. I desperately wanted to get out of that hotel of horrors. The words of a popular rock song came to me:

Welcome to California

“Looking for gold in the Golden State…”

Looking for gold in the Golden State
but the nuggets are piled on other men’s plates
and they’ll burn you out at half past eight
welcome to California

I practically stumbled down the stairs in my haste to flee that place. In the lobby, the drug dealers and addicts ignored me or watched listlessly as I pushed my way out through the boards.

Back in my car I sat breathing raggedly and obsessively cleaning my hands with a packet of wet wipes that I kept in the glove box. I hadn’t known that such places existed. Drugs, man. Drugs. What a foul, evil thing the drug business was. Kids who thought drugs were cool, fun or glamorous should be brought to places like this and given a tour of hell on earth, so they could see where the drug trip inevitably led.

Thank God I’d never gotten sucked into that. Alhamdulillah for the mercies we take for granted.

And yet I was not done. When I had my composure back, I exited the car and went in search of other drug houses.

Over the course of the afternoon I managed to find two more drug dens. In the last one, I was attacked without warning by two heavily tattooed Hispanic men in their twenties – dealers, I think. One – a burly bald man who looked like he couldn’t walk without his thighs rubbing together – tried to open my throat with an eight inch hunting knife, presumably in order to rob me.

Only my years of training saved me. I instinctively side stepped, just as I’d practiced a million times. I threw up an arm and managed to blocked the slash, but took a deep cut across the back of my left forearm in the process. An instant later I kicked the outside of Baldy’s knee as hard as I could and heard something snap. He went down with a scream, and I stomped on his ankle to seal the deal, feeling the small bones there crunch and shatter. He screamed again at an even higher pitch, as if auditioning for a soprano gig with the Fresno opera.

I picked up the hunting knife and the second attacker – a thin man with a scraggly goatee who looked more like a junkie than a dealer – backed up with his hands in the air in surrender. I kicked the downed man for good measure, one hard soccer kick to the base of the spine with the toe of my shoe, causing Baldy’s entire body to spasm. Then I motioned to his friend and snarled, “Get your friend to the hospital.”

I went on my way, holding the knife in a reverse grip so that it lay alongside my arm. I searched the rest of the den as blood dripped from my left arm. I encountered a few residents but none were Tarek, and none bothered me.

I felt like a man standing at a dry well, pulling up one empty bucket after another. Doing the same thing again and again and hoping for a different result – wasn’t that one definition of insanity?

I returned to my car. I tossed the knife into the trunk and took out the first aid kit I kept there. I disinfected my wound liberally, then bound my forearm tightly. The cut was bad. I could have used Badger’s surgical stapler right about now. I should have gone to the hospital but I was exhausted and traumatized by all I’d seen that day, and not in the mood to sit around a waiting room for hours.

I started the car and drove away. Two blocks down the street I noticed a group of about a dozen homeless youths who had gathered in the entrance of a derelict art deco building that was once probably very beautiful.

I parked the car and went to talk to them. They were teens, with one or two who might have been as young as thirteen or fourteen. Runaways, I figured. Wearing rags and leather, some looking like hippies while others were more punkish, they sat huddled in a tight circle, talking quietly and passing around a single cigarette. Several had the symbol for anarchy – a capital A in a circle – hand drawn on their clothing. A few kept dogs on leashes. I greeted them and showed them Tarek’s picture. A few muttered, “No, sorry,” or shook their heads. One cursed at me. Most ignored me.

“Spare some change?” one asked. He was a curly haired boy of fifteen or so.

Seeing my hesitation and no doubt deducing the reason, he added, “It’s for food, man. We’re hungry.”

“I’ll buy you food,” I offered. “Give me a grocery list.”

They all turned toward me. “Bread and cheese,” the curly haired boy said. “And baloney.” Someone else requested chips and bananas. “Tampons,” a pink-haired girl said. Peanut butter, canned tuna, dog food – the requests went on.

My offer to go grocery shopping had been a bluff, and they’d called it.

“I don’t have time,” I confessed. “I’ll give you the money.” I took a hundred dollars from my wallet. “Who should I give it to?”

“Doesn’t matter,” the pink-haired girl said. “We share everything.”

This reminded me of the Muslim brothers in prison, the way we used to support one another. We always had welcome packages ready for brothers who were newly incarcerated or transferred in from other institutions. The packages included hygiene supplies, foodstuffs that could be purchased from the prison commissary such as canned tuna and instant noodles, and maybe even a musalla and a kufi. No prisoner was allowed to hoard such goods, so the care package would be distributed among several brothers, to be assembled when needed.

Never in my life – before prison or after – have I encountered the kind of solidarity that I experienced while incarcerated. Anytime I entered a new penal institution – and I had been in several, with the way the feds liked to transfer prisoners like pieces on a game board – the first thing I did was look for the Muslims. If I found Muslims there, I knew I was safe.

I gave the money to the curly haired boy.

“Hey,” he said. “Why you looking for that guy? You a cop?”

I shook my head. “He’s a friend. His daughter is missing and I’m trying to help.”

“If he’s your friend, what’s his nickname?”

“T-Bone,” I said without hesitation.

“Anybody might know that,” the pink-haired girl objected. “If he’s really your friend, what kind of cigarettes does he smoke?”

I raised my eyebrows, then chuckled. That was an easy one. Tarek began smoking when he was thirteen. I tried to talk him out of it many times, but he said it made him feel good. He only ever smoked one brand.

“Camels,” I said. “He always used to say-“

The homeless youths all chimed in: “What else would an Egyptian smoke?” They laughed.

“Yeah, we know T-Bone.” Curly pointed west. “He shares food when he has it.” He pointed west. “He stays in a boarded up yellow house a couple of blocks that way. There’s this weird ditch in the front yard, like someone was trying to dig up the pipes or something.”

* * *

Sunset over downtown Fresno.

Sunset over downtown Fresno.

The sun was going down. Wispy white clouds were finger-painted across an orange sky. To the east, the buildings of downtown Fresno loomed darkly against the sky like black-painted cutouts.  The air smelled of fireplace smoke and farm dust. Good God, I wished it would rain. Just a little rain to cleanse the air, cleanse my skin, cleanse the world.

Safaa had never called me back. I should go home and rest, but I wanted to pursue this lead. My wounded arm throbbed with pain. I had a bottle of ibuprofen in the car. I took four and tossed them into my mouth, swallowing them dry. I knew that taking ibuprofen on an empty stomach could damage the stomach lining, but the pain was so distracting that I couldn’t think, and I didn’t have any food at the moment.

I drove around a bit and found the yellow house without difficulty. I keep a small, high-powered LED flashlight in the glove box. I took that with me and approached the house. Holding my arm close against my side so as not to injure it further, I tried the front door of the yellow house. It opened a tiny bit then stopped, apparently barred by something heavy. I put my shoulder into it and managed to open it enough to slip through. It turned out someone had pushed an old oven in front of it.

I shone the light around the house. The interior was nearly bare, layered in dust and rotten smelling. Someone had even torn open the walls to steal the wiring and pipes. There were scorch marks on the floor, maybe where someone had made a fire. I went through the entire home. The sound of my feet shuffling on the floor seemed very loud. Shadows leaped as I moved the flashlight about. But there was nothing in the house but the old oven, a wooden chair with no legs, a greasy orange rag in the kitchen, and a broken-down refrigerator lying on its side in one of the bedrooms, close to the wall.

Another dead end. I sighed in weariness and frustration. Maybe Tarek wasn’t here in Fresno after all. Maybe when he’d fled the rehab center in Visalia he’d gone no further than that city’s own drug dens. Or maybe he was in Fresno but in some other part of town. This wasn’t the only street with dope houses. He could be anywhere. Maybe he’d hooked up with Angie and the two of them had taken off for strange horizons, spending that bundle of money that Angie was hauling around.

But the homeless kids said Tarek stayed here. It didn’t make sense. Had they lied to me?

I was about to turn away and leave this minor waystation on the road to hell when a thought occurred to me. The old refrigerator. It had been lying with its back to me. I had not seen inside it. A refrigerator was highly insulated and would make a good shelter against the cold. Only someone small could fit inside it, of course. A woman or a child, or a short man. Tarek was only 5’7”. I went back into the bedroom and looked at the old refrigerator, then walked around it slowly. As I did, I saw something sticking out. I shone the light on it. The bottom of a tennis shoe. I took another step: there was a leg attached to the shoe. The rotten stench that filled the house was stronger here, so much so that I had to breathe through my mouth.

I stopped for a moment, feeling my heart sink with dismay and dread. I didn’t want to see what was lying inside that refrigerator. I didn’t want to look. If I didn’t look, maybe it wouldn’t be real. If I didn’t look, maybe I wouldn’t have nightmares about it later.

My breath caught and I had to stop myself from turning away and leaving this place. The owner of the leg might not be Tarek, I told myself, and if it was, he might only be asleep.

But no. This was my job. This was what I did. I followed clues and walked down dark paths that showed me the worst of human nature. I faced the stark truths of life dead on, and did not flinch. I’d found bodies before. But it had always been someone else’s spouse or child. Someone else’s friend. Ah, subhanAllah. La ilaha il-Allah.

I stepped slowly around to the other side of the fridge.

It was Tarek, of course. He wore tattered jeans, a red t-shirt with a torn chest pocket, and boat shoes with no socks. He lay on his side inside the refrigerator, only his legs sticking out, his body curved like a comma, as if this were only a pause in motion before his story continued.

Except that it would not continue. Even before I knelt to take his pulse, I knew he was dead. There was a quality of utter stillness to his repose that he had never possessed in life. Tarek was darker-skinned than either of his parents, and the lean angles of his brown face – for he was very thin – almost seemed to shine, even in the dark, and even with the sores and ulcers that disfigured his features. His left arm was tied off for an injection, and the needle was still embedded in his forearm. His arms were studded with track marks – old needle injection scars and abscesses.

Dr. Alejandra Rodriguez had gotten her wish, it seemed. Tarek had indeed come to a ruinous end.

I studied Tarek’s face. His lips were dry and cracked, while his dark, half-lidded eyes seemed to gaze at me with a combination of reproach and vindication. You always knew I’d end up this way, his eyes seemed to say. But it’s alright. I finally caught that high I’ve been chasing.

I knelt beside him and felt along his neck, flinching at the deathly cold of his skin. There was no pulse. I felt in front of his mouth and nose for breath. But no. He’d been dead for days was my sense of it. His body was loose and relaxed, which meant that rigor mortis had already passed. So thirty six hours at least.

I called emergency services and reported it. While I waited for the ambulance – they always sent an ambulance first, just in case – I checked his pockets.

It wasn’t that I was cool headed, or so accustomed to death that this horror did not faze me. I was stunned. I had known Tarek since I was a kid. We’d had so many adventures together, spent so many afternoons talking about the things we’d do one day, the places we’d see. But a preternatural stillness had settled over me – the proverbial calm before the storm. I had a job to do.

I searched Tarek’s pockets, taking care not to puncture my hands on any spare needles. I found a pencil stub, two individual Life Savers candies coated in lint, four pennies, an uncancelled stamp torn from an envelope, a pack of Camels with two cigarettes remaining – what else would an Egyptian smoke, I thought crazily – and a book of matches.

The matchbook was adorned with a graphic of a woman slithering around a pole, kicking one leg in the air. “Chi-Chi’s,” it said. Obviously a strip club. In tiny gold lettering it gave an address on Golden State Boulevard, outside the city limits.

I studied all these objects, then put them back in Tarek’s pockets just I’d found them.

I took Tarek’s cold hand and held it between mine, as if I could warm it. “Wa lal-aakhiratu khayrun laka min al-uwlaa,” I recited. Surat Ad-Duha again. “And the Hereafter is better for you than the first life. And your Lord will give you, and you will be satisfied.” I prayed that Tarek, who had never found satisfaction in anything in life, and who’d spent every day of his existence chasing something he could not name, had finally found a place of peace.

I remembered the rest of that song I’d been thinking of earlier:

Looking for love at the edge of the West
running out of time, can’t catch my breath
liars and players walk ten abreast
welcome to California.

Lord don’t make me a player too
I’m not staying, just passing through
On my way to find You, to love You
beyond California.

It fit Tarek to a T, so to speak. He was beyond California now, that was sure, and I could only hope that he had found mercy with Allah at the end of the journey. My hands began to shake. I sat and hugged myself tightly, feeling suddenly very cold. After a moment I stood and went outside. I needed fresh air, and felt it would be best if I were outside when the cops arrived. I began to practice Kali on the dead grass of the front lawn, moving in the pale light of a distant streetlamp, doing the footwork – forward V, backward V, side to side, diamond pattern, hourglass pattern, star pattern, faster and faster.

The shakes passed. Standing in place, breathing hard, I took the photo of Anna out of my pocket and shone my flashlight on it. She stood in front of a tree covered in purple blossoms, wearing her school uniform and white Adidas sneakers with black stripes. As I looked at her she looked right back at me, solemn, her dark eyes conveying a message that I could not read.

I put the photo back, and addressed Tarek, wherever he might be. “I will find your daughter, akhi,” I said softly. “That’s the only promise I can make. Allah help me.”

1969 Dodge Dart GTS

1969 Dodge Dart GTS

I sat on the hood of my car, waiting for the cops. They were certainly taking their time. I guess a dead addict didn’t warrant an emergency response. My phone rang. It was Safaa, finally calling me back. It was Hajar’s bedtime, I knew. At least I would get to speak to her before she slept. I answered, and Hajar greeted me with “Sala ‘laykum Baba!”

I smiled, and felt emotions roiling in my chest – embarrassment and shame at the fact that I was able to smile with my dead friend lying inside a refrigerator, along with detached amusement at the unpredictability of my own heart. At the same time, I breathed a sigh of relief. There were times when I thought my heart would throw up its arteries in frustration and sheer weariness and resign without the courtesy of giving notice. Sometimes it felt like the only thing keeping me going was Hajar.

“Wa alaykum as-salam, honey. How was school today?”

“It was fine. Mama’s taking me to buy new shoes ‘cause my shoes have holes like the moon.” This was followed by a burbling sound.

“What’s that sound?” I asked.

“I’m blowing in the milk with my straw. It makes bubbles.”

“You shouldn’t do that, honey. It’s not good to play with your food.”

There was a pause during which I knew that Hajar was thinking of a response. She never liked to admit that anything she did was wrong, and would always find some way to debate the issue. “Kids do that,” she said finally, “to keep the milk healthy.” She went on, not giving me a chance to dispute this. “You know Baba, I’m only gonna drink milk today.”

“Oh yes? Why is that?”

“Because that’s my padwen.” I didn’t know what this meant, but I figured it out as she went on: “I drink milk one day, then water one day, then juice one day. That’s my padwen.”

I smiled. “Okay, sweetie. That’s a good pattern.”

“You sound sad, Baba.” This caught me off guard and jarred me. I’d been trying hard to sound cheerful, and thought I was succeeding. Before I could wrestle myself back under control, tears sprung from my eyes and I choked back a sob.

“I am,” I replied, my voice quavering. “But not because of you.”

“Then why are you sad?”

“One of my friends died.”

“Oh.” Hajar’s voice was solemn. “Like the dinosaurs.”

“Yes, honey. Like the dinosaurs.” Lights flashing, an ambulance approached. “I have to go now kiddo. I love you forever and always. You’re my number one kiddo.”

“I love you forever and always Baba.”

* * *

The paramedics arrived first, followed a minute later by two uniformed police officers who asked me a few questions about my presence here, then instructed me to wait for the detectives.

The detectives arrived a half hour later. One was a heavyset, middle-aged white man in a nicer suit than I would have expected on a civil servant. The other was a hard-faced young black woman with her straightened hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.

I remained outside while they went in to examine the scene and the body. One of the uniformed officers stayed with me to make sure I didn’t leave.

When the detectives emerged about ten minutes later, they studied my P.I. license and badge. I told them forthrightly that I’d been hired by Tarek’s parents to find his child, and that I’d worn down some shoe leather to locate Tarek here. I gave them the Anwars’ address and phone number. The white cop in particular seemed bored and ready to write the whole thing off as another junkie O.D. The black cop asked a few questions about Tarek’s habits and friends. I knew little about such things, and told her so. She asked about the bandage on my arm and I told her about the attack in the drug den, leaving out the part where I kicked Baldy in the spine after he was down.

As the detectives were questioning me, two people arrived from the coroner’s office. A tiny, slim redhead and a blonde fellow with a waxed mustache went inside then came out with Tarek’s body bundled into a bodybag and lying on a stretcher – I was surprised that that the little redhead could handle her end of it. They loaded him into the ambulance and drove away.

Eventually the detectives let me go, with the usual admonition that they might want to speak to me again in the future. Standing in the early evening air, I felt small and humbled, unnerved by being in the presence of so much death lately, and very aware of my powerlessness in the face of Allah’s might and decree.

This wasn’t the first time I’d found a body in the course of an investigation. I knew that Tarek’s body would be taken to the Fresno County Coroner’s office. It was very unlikely that the cops would investigate the death, or that the coroner would perform an autopsy. They’d look at the body, see he’d overdosed, notify the next of kin, and release the body after 48 hours to a funeral home of the Anwars’ choosing. They would not allow any viewing of the body at their own facility.

* * *

I headed west to the club on Golden State, the one from the matchbook in Tarek’s pocket. Tarek had never struck me as the strip club type, and I wanted to know what that matchbook was doing in his pocket. Clubs like this only operated at night, so I might as well go now.

The matchbook was almost certainly nothing, but one never knew. Everything was a part of the pattern of life, part of the ebb and flow of energy and matter that made up the universe, and sometimes a little thing turned into a big thing, and vice versa.

The Chi-Chi club was on a country road all by itself, surrounded by almond farms and orange groves. The parking lot was a field covered in gravel. It was no place for a Muslim, and I didn’t want to go in. But I had to follow this lead. I would keep my head down, do my business and leave.

I paid the $30 cover charge to a hulking bouncer who filled the doorway – he was so big he must have his clothes custom-made – and walked into an interior illuminated purely in red and blue, giving everything a garish hue. Three raised stages rose like islands amid a sea of tables and chairs. On them, women danced and gyrated around steel poles as house music pounded loudly enough to vibrate the glasses on the tables. Men guzzled beer or hard liquor as they whistled, hooted and clapped at the girls. There were businessmen, tradesmen, laborers and gangsters.

A DJ on a fourth stage against the wall was illuminated in purple. He was a Latino with long black hair and a wispy black beard. He danced with his head back, seemingly entranced.

I took a seat on the fringe – averting my gaze from the dancers – and waited for a waitress to approach me. When one did, I showed her Tarek’s photo and – raising my voice to be heard above the music – asked if she knew him.

The waitress, a young white girl with a lean face and flinty green eyes, did not even glance at the pic. “Honey, I ain’t got time,” she said. “There’s a two drink minimum. If you ain’t buyin’, Bobo will be happy to show you out.” She angled her head to indicate the gargantuan bouncer who’d collected the door charge.

I took out my wallet and handed the waitress two twenty dollar bills, which she made disappear into her skimpy outfit as if by magic. I held up the phone again, and she looked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Sure. That’s Tareek. He’s Glitter’s boyfriend. She’s one of our dancers. He used to pick her up sometimes. She ain’t been in lately.”

“Huh.” I thought about this. “This Glitter, her real name wouldn’t happen to be Angie, would it?”

The waitress held out her hand and I put another twenty in it.

“Sure,” she said. “That’s her. Like I said she ain’t been in.”

“Did you know her well? She’s missing and I’ve been hired to find her.”

She shook her head. “Talk to Zenobia.” She indicated one of the dancers, a muscular African-American woman who was gripping a pole with two hands and swinging both legs around it wildly in a maneuver that must have required tremendous core strength. “She and Angie are tight. Now what’ll you have to drink?”

I sighed. “Two Diet Pepsis, please.”

The waitress laughed. “Okay, but they’re ten bucks each, like any other drink.” She took my money and hurried off.

The DJ crowed, “Let’s hear it for Zenobia, gentlemen! Next up is Twinkle and her amazing hula hoop routine.”

The African-American woman, Zenobia, stepped off the stage and began threading her way between tables toward the backroom. I hurried after her and tapped her on the shoulder. She spun toward me with an angry look on her face. I forestalled whatever she’d been about to say and shouted to make myself heard over the pounding music. “I need to talk to you about Angie! She’s missing.”

Zenobia’s forehead creased in surprise and alarm. She gestured and I followed. We passed a table at which four young Arab-looking men sat, hooting and hollering at the next dancer’s routine. One looked up as I passed and I realized that I knew him. His name was Yahya. He was an Iraqi brother who used to be quite active at Masjid Madinah. In fact he used to open the masjid every morning for Fajr prayer. Then his cousin came to stay with him. His cousin was a boozer and a partier, and he sucked Yahya into his lifestyle. I hadn’t seen Yahya in over a year.

Yahya was also the brother-in-law of Safaa’s second cousin, or something like that.

When I met his eyes he gave me a wide grin, and said something to his companions, who all turned to look at me. A few of them laughed. I could only imagine what Yahya had said: “See that guy, I know him. He goes to the mosque, pretends to be religious. He’s married to my relative. Just wait until she hears about this.”

I couldn’t believe my bad luck. Just what I needed. If Safaa heard that I’d been spotted in a strip club, that was it. She’d never trust me again. Our marriage would be over for sure. La hawla wa la quwwata il-la billah. Maybe I should never have come to this place.

I looked away from Yahya and hurried after Zenobia, who led me past another bouncer and through the back door, and from there into a large changing room. Along one wall, a row of stools was positioned before a long mirror surrounded by light bulbs. A countertop below the mirror was covered with makeup kits and wigs. Along another wall was a long metal bar from which hung dozens of show outfits, dresses and nightgowns.

Zenobia took an ankle-length flowered nightgown off the rack and slipped into it. She sat on one of the makeup stools and crossed her arms over her chest. “You a cop?” she asked in a businesslike tone.

I shook my head and sat with one stool between us. “Private.” I showed her my I.D.

She looked me up and down and – apparently deciding I was not dangerous – relaxed slightly. “So what about Angie?”

“She’s missing and Tarek is dead,” I replied, getting right to the point. “I’ve been hired by Tarek’s parents to find their granddaughter Anna.”

“Dead?” She leaned back and touched her fingers to her lips in surprise. “How?”

“He O.D.’d. The thing is, Angie’s sister says Angie showed up with a backpack full of money. And little Anna was in bad shape, beat up and hungry.”

Zenobia shook her head. “I don’t know about any of that. I mean, Angie always had problems. The dope, you know. I tried to get her into a program but that girl was a helicopter spinning out of control. Get too close, you’d get cut in half. She always chose the worst men.”

“You mean Tarek?”

She shrugged. “Tarek was a dope fiend, but at least he wasn’t violent. But Angie was never one for fidelity. She went home with customers, if they paid her. She was beaten up more than once.”

“Could she have stolen the money from one of the men she went with?”

“How much money?”

“Forty five thousand dollars.”

Zenobia whistled softly. “I don’t know. If you’re asking was Angie capable of it, then I’d say yes. She was certainly larcenous enough – no one loved money more than Angie – and probably stupid enough.”

“It doesn’t sound like you think highly of her.”

She smiled ruefully. “I’ve always been one for lost causes.” Again she studied me, her eyes roaming from my worn shoes and bandaged arm to my battered fedora. “Lost puppies too,” she added.

“Where would she go,” I asked. “If she came into a lot of money?”

Zenobia ran her fingers along the edge of the counter, fingering a dent in the wood. “She used to talk about Panama. How she and her sister would play in the plantations, eating bananas and mangoes whenever they were hungry. How she used to swim in Lake Gatun but had to watch out for crocodiles. She sounded so wistful whenever she talked about it.”

I asked a few more questions about Angie’s possible acquaintances or friends, but Zenobia had little more to offer. I stood to leave, thanking her for her time.

“Hey, uhh, Zaid? Is that how you say your name?”

“Yes.”

“Aren’t you supposed to give me your card? In case I think of anything else? Or in case I just, you know, want to call you?” She gave me a shy look and I found myself surprised by human nature all over again, how the child within us, the innocent and bashful soul, never truly departs.

Of course as a professional I should give her my card – just as she said, in case she remembered anything else. But she was a very attractive woman, and intelligent. The kind of woman who could tempt any man, especially one separated from his wife and desperate for a little love.

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. Take care, Zenobia.”

“It’s Michelle.” The bashful smile again. “My real name, I mean.”

* * *

This had been one of the longest and most difficult days of my life. In a single day I’d alienated Chausiki Sulawesi, participated in a gun battle in which a woman was killed, damaged my friendship with Aziz Al-Ansari, seen more horror than I ever wished to remember, been wounded, and found my friend lying dead in a refrigerator. I was so tired and emotionally exhausted I could barely stand.

I drove to my office on autopilot. The electricity was back on – Jalal at least had not let me down. I removed the bandage on my arm, washed and disinfected the wound, and used superglue to seal the edges of the cut. Then I performed wudu’ and rebandaged the arm. There had been no opportunity to pray Maghreb, so I prayed Maghreb and ‘Isha, willing my eyes to stay open. Even so, I think I might have fallen asleep in sujood at one point.

When I was done I collapsed into my cot. I closed my eyes and for some reason remembered an incident from when Tarek and I were young, maybe seven or eight years old. Back then Farah Anwar used to bake pies and cakes for the Muslim women’s halaqas that she held in her house.

Cookie dough

“Tarek had a fascination with raw dough.”

Tarek for some reason had a fascination with the raw dough. Whenever possible he would steal handfuls of dough and we’d play with them, fashioning them into snakes or tiny people. One time, Tarek’s grandmother was asleep on the sofa, and Tarek had the brilliant idea to make tiny dough caterpillars and stick them in her nostrils. I knew this would end badly, so I held back and watched as Tarek carried out his plan. Next thing we knew, his grandmother was up off the sofa, screaming in Arabic at the top of her lungs, batting her nose frantically and chasing us around the house.

Tarek put the blame on me, saying it was my idea, and his mother believed him. My father took me home and whipped me with his belt so badly I could not sit down for days.

Tarek Anwar’s days of getting into trouble were over. Any trouble he faced now existed in a dimension and on a scale beyond human perception. O Allah, I prayed as sleep came over me, forgive my friend and protect him, and make him among the people of Paradise.

***

Next week: Zaid Karim Private Investigator, Part 11: Zaid, the Son of Islam

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

How to Save Your Family from Self-Destruction

Muslim Matters - 8 August, 2017 - 14:55

“Your possessions and your children are only a trial, and Allah it is with Whom is a great reward.” – Quran 64:15

I was sitting in a Los Angeles courtroom waiting on a client’s estate litigation case.  These are cases that regularly fracture families, but that was not my case that day.

This day as I waited I listened in on a public hearing with perhaps eight lawyers from different sides on if the court date should be continued for one week so that one of the lawyers could get some paperwork.  It occurred to me as I listened that I knew the family that hired all these opposing lawyers.  I knew the decedent whose assets everyone was now fighting over.  He was a pillar of the Muslim community, a great businessman, and philanthropist who was a benefactor to some of the most recognizable non-profits locally and nationally.   He had a great family, many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, mostly all lived near him, all in regular contact with each other.  After his death, beneficiaries went straight to battle stations. Many hired lawyers.  The family would never be the same again.

In all, the family spent over twenty million dollars in attorney fees in the next few years.  Many years later, problems of various sorts continue. There was a cost to this conflict, but it was borne not only by the family but by the larger society as well.

My law practice involves litigating inheritance disputes and planning estates.   Drawing on my over 10 years of experience as an Estate Attorney serving both Muslims and non-Muslims are five suggestions protect your family from the kind of ruin that often takes place when it comes to the fitna of wealth and family.

Follow the Fara’id

I have clients in what you might call the lower rungs of the family who were not directly involved in the estate dispute I described above.  When I told one of them I happened to be sitting in at the hearing over his family’s wealth his analysis of the problem was simple: If they had followed Islamic Inheritance, none of this would have happened.

Whatever the facts of that case and if this analysis was entirely correct or not (only Allah knows for sure)- one thing  is certain: Islamic Inheritance, (the fara’id), mandates a uniform system of inheritance regardless of who you think is deserving or not.  Your biases, prejudices, and vanity play no part in distribution to your own family.  The beauty of the system is that when inheritance gets distributed per Allah’s command (Quran 4:11-14 and elsewhere), there is nobody to be angry with, no one to fight when it comes to distribution.

If someone plans based on Islamic Inheritance, virtually everyone concerned, even those that don’t practice Islam, will usually understand what happened.  The decedent was a believing Muslimah.  She acted upon her religious beliefs.  There was no fraud, no undue influence, and the decedent knew who her family was and knew what her wealth was and chose to follow her religion when it came to these things. There is no problem here.

People often ask me if someone who had properly planned their estates based on the Islamic Rules of inheritance risk a challenge in court.  My answer:  Yes, the courts are always open for disgruntled heirs to accuse anyone of anything.  However, I had never seen such a case involving Islamic Inheritance in over a decade of doing this.

If you talk to families where one brother has not happened to talk to another for decades, the trouble can often be traced to an inheritance dispute.  For society, there is tremendous wisdom in having a uniform system that reduces these conflicts.  We build our community around families.  A breakdown here is a breakdown in community.  As my client in the above story remarked “Imagine how much good could happen in the Muslim community for twenty million dollars,” – referring to the amount that went to lawyers. But the strength of families inside a community goes far beyond money.  A community is built on relationships and not just wealth. Fortunes can be rebuilt. A family, once decimated in such a manner, cannot be.

Sadly, most American Muslim families barely know Islamic Inheritance is a thing. Knowledge of it is scarce, despite it being an obligation for Muslims with wealth.  The most important thing you can do for your family over the long term is to learn about Islamic Inheritance and implement it correctly.  The process involves organizing assets, re-titling and creating agreements.

Marry wisely

If I were to give advice to both Muslims and non-Muslims on the best way to avoid estate disputes, getting a good lawyer to do your estate planning (though that should be obvious) would not be first on my list, but rather, it would be to be select your spouse wisely.   I suppose I may say it in a manner that could come off as flippant, but it is still true.

What we in the estate litigation world notice with disputes is that most of them appear to involve “blended families.”  These are families where a second marriage is involved either after a divorce or the death, where children are not common to both spouses.  Adult children will often see the remarriage of their parent as a threat. Sometimes this concern is legitimate- people do marry for the money and can be ruthless in its pursuit.  Often the concern is overblown.

The lack of financial boundaries at the outset of the marriage and susceptibility to being manipulated by one faction of the family versus another can easily cause problems.

I have seen situations where older people marry into a family of grifters with multiple individuals who have criminal records, and the person getting married and his adult children have no idea about their past.  The facts get discovered later. Of course, most families where serious conflicts develop are not that bad, at least not at the beginning.

Before any marriage, particularly among people with assets, it is important to create a contract (called a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement) between the parties and determine early on what current and future assets belong to which spouse.  Both husband and wife in any marriage should be separate economic units.  Not setting boundaries around who gets to use your wealth can easily be a cause of fighting after you are gone, and sometimes even while you are still around.   Be transparent with adult children about how the arrangement is supposed to work.  Doing this will promote peace and harmony in a complex family.

Beware of Alienation

The exclusion of family members from elders is often a warning sign that financial or other elder abuse may be taking place. Elderly parents need not be wealthy for this to happen.

It is relatively common for a child or a son or child-in-law to create a dependency relationship with an elderly person, cutting the individual off from the rest of the world, including other children.  Adult children often give up too easily when they are told their parent does not want to see them or speak to them. Often this happens when access is being controlled by one party or another.  Cutting off family ties is always a bad thing.  However, when it comes to the elderly, it can be devastating.

Depending on the facts, it may be necessary to contact an Attorney or the local Adult Protective Services agency.

Actively Make Peace in Extended Families 

Parents have a recognized right to have a relationship with their minor children.  There is no real right for grandparents (in most jurisdictions), and certainly, there is no right for cousins who live near each other to spend summers playing together.  Disputes inside families have long term effects that go far beyond the four corners of an estate dispute.

All marriages, even the marriages of adult children (and future heirs) can complicate estates.  The most ruinous of estate litigation is often an extension of long-simmering family politics.   Many often recommend counseling for troubled married couples.    However, families often tolerate long-term warfare between sisters-in-law over petty nonsense. Indeed, I have seen elders egg on conflict inside their own families.  I once had a case where the deceased mother, in her own living trust, explicitly encouraged one daughter to sue another after her death over her own estate, which ended up happening.  While such a scenario is unusual, it is relatively common for parents to favor one child over another, and organize their finances to reflect this. This will cause long-term resentment that survives the life of the parent.

Actively work to make peace in families long before it can be ruinous.  If you are a sibling, or a half or step-sibling that a parent favored in this way, for whatever reason, recognize this can be a cause of fitna in your family and bring other affected parties to the table in whatever way is practical.

Often, disputes within the family are not so much about money as they are about respect, status, and identity.  They tend to happen at very emotional times (after a loved one died). You are far less likely to end up in conflict if the people concerned feel like they were respected.

Don’t give away stuff you still need

Ever hear that sad story about a man who put his son on the title to his home, then found himself kicked to the curb a few years (or months) later? While children and their priorities when it comes to taking care of aging parents may change over time, that story is not the only reason giving away a home to an adult child is not a good idea. As children become adults, they have more “drama” in their lives. Children get married, often to an unsuitable spouse, get divorced, go through financial troubles, get expensive medical bills, get sued over business disputes, file for bankruptcy and so forth.  Such things place their assets at risk.

If that adult child owns a home, you rely on for shelter, that drama is now directly your direct concern. A judgment creditor or bankruptcy trustee can stand in the shoes of your adult child and take away your home for reasons that have nothing to do with you.   Another problem with this is that it smacks of favoritism of one child over others, potentially causing future conflict.  If instead all children are treated equally in the giveaway, you only increase the level of personal risk.

Don’t give away things you need for yourself.  Give away things only if you don’t need it.  Otherwise, allow it to pass as inheritance after you have died.

It goes far beyond lawyers

We have been experiencing the breakdown of the family for many years now.  In many cases, there is no sense of shame, guilt, respect or even shared values within the same families. For the most part, these observations do not seem to apply to the Muslim families I work with but could happen.

Breakdowns in the family are often a symptom of deeper problems with upbringing, marriage and the lack of Islamic ethics.  Yes, it helps to go to a lawyer to organize an estate. Making sure inheritance is one based on rules as mandated in Islam is certainly helpful. Indeed, it is an obligation.  However, none of these things can help fix a family where greed, vanity and scheming take the place of love, compassion, and respect.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t got the Knowhow

Indigo Jo Blogs - 7 August, 2017 - 22:14

A black Iveco Eurocargo truck with the Knowhow logo of a black button with rings in rainbow colours in circles around it, with the words "Knowhow, the service available at Curry's PC World".I was listening to the BBC’s You and Yours programme and heard a feature on ransomware (malware that encrypts your files and then demands money for the key to decrypt it), and having data stored in the Cloud (in this case, Knowhow Cloud, run by the Curry’s/PC World group) corrupted by said malware (which is possible as cloud drives are often accessible directly from the desktop as if it were a drive on your computer). The aggrieved customer believed that he was buying the Cloud storage with a back-up, so that his (and his customers’) data could be restored if this sort of thing happened. However, restoring from Knowhow’s backups wasn’t that easy.

Apparently, you have to individually go through the backed-up files on Knowhow’s server using their web portal and restore each one, which if you have lost thousands of files would be a long-drawn-out and laborious process. But it shouldn’t be. Every programmer uses a version control system which can restore any file, or an entire group of files, to their state at a particular time when they were ‘committed’, i.e. a save or set of saves was recorded. It records changes, not a string of different versions, so as to keep storage overheads down. Apple’s Time Machine backups work on the same principle. Setting up a repository with some of these systems is just a matter of one or two commands, though automating regular, secure backups is rather less simple.

What on earth is a major company like Knowhow doing offering a ‘backup’ solution that requires the customer to manually restore single files when software is available for free, used on major projects such as the Linux kernel and Mozilla browser, among many other things, that will restore whole directories (folders) to a specified point in time with one command? It’s pathetic. (When I bought my laptop, they insisted on sitting me down to get me to buy their cloud storage, despite my having access to two cloud storage drives already, only one of which I use. And they’re free.)

Possibly Related Posts:


Top 5 Reasons Why Qatar Should Stand its Ground

Muslim Matters - 7 August, 2017 - 12:29

As the intra-GCC conflict digs its heels in deeper, it is important to acknowledge that no single party is one hundred percent correct, that not every issue is black and white, and that there exists large swathes of gray- as is typical in such wide geopolitical conflicts.

Having said that, there is certainly a party that is more principled. And in the following five key points (in order of importance), I make the case that Qatar has the moral high ground on both principles and facts surrounding this crisis:

Muslim Brotherhood is a paranoia that should not destroy GCC brotherhood:

One of the most fundamental Saudi complaints against Qatar is with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). One must note that the MB was Egypt’s democratically elected ruling party only a few years ago, and soft links to this movement exist globally, from Tunisia, Morocco to Turkey, Pakistan and many others.

While MB organizationally has renounced violence and has assimilated into democratic channels in most parts of the world, some offshoots have taken on more violent dimensions. But to paint the entire movement as one monolith or the “mother of terrorism” or the “motivation behind ISIS” is not only simplistic but also flat wrong. Let’s take this logic to its natural conclusion: if ISIS takes its motivation from MB, and MB takes its motivation from Islam, is Islam the “mother of terrorism”?

Perhaps the real fear is not terrorism or violence. The indisputable fact is that MB is organized and transnational, and its role in the Arab Spring created new levels of paranoia for the Saudi bloc. Thus, one can understand that some non-democratic countries such as Saudi and UAE may see MB offshoots as existential threats. However, many countries allow MB offshoots to prosper or at least exist; yet they remain peaceful elements with little influence at the top (like in Pakistan, Qatar, Kuwait, etc.).

It is important to note that human psychology is such that the more you silence and oppress opposing voices the more you exacerbate dissension. Thus, it is in the Saudi bloc’s interest to win hearts and minds with good policies and governance, rather than censorship and silencing, by observing other nations where people have dismissed Islamist movements by choice (not force).

Qatar is tied to Iran not by choice but by resources:

The Saudi bloc wants Qatar to be “less close” to Iran, including military cooperation. First of all, there is little evidence of military cooperation in recent times. As for other ties, Qatar is different from other GCC nations in that it shares with Iran exploration rights in the world’s largest gas field that holds at least 43 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves. This physical reality binds the two nations in an economic cooperation that is critical to both.

Furthermore, while the Saudi bloc sees Iran as the biggest threat to world peace and the largest sponsor of terrorism, it continues to maintain diplomatic and economic ties with Iran. So on one hand, Qatar is being punished for not toeing the Saudi bloc line to Iran, but the on the other, the Saudi bloc continues to do business as usual with Iran. This makes little sense and reeks of double standards.

Instead of strong-arming Qatar into cutting ties with Iran, the way to contain Iran is through diplomatic and political channels. Yes, Iran must stop its disastrous direct interference in assisting Syrian’s Assad in his brutal campaign. But having Qatar cut its ties cannot stop it. In fact, the Saudi bloc could use Qatar as a vessel to negotiate political solutions to the region’s abysmal situation, rather than block such channels.

If Qatar silences Al-Jazeera, can we ask UK to silence BBC, Russia for RT and Saudi for Al-Arabiya?

This is one of the more incredulous demands by the Saudi/UAE/Egypt (“Saudi bloc”), and has its roots in the Egyptian’s bloody counter-revolution that brought Sisi into power (financed by UAE), following the Rabaa massacre. During this time, Al-Jazeera was viciously attacked for its unfavorable coverage of the coup and, one may fairly argue, for its bias towards Muslim Brotherhood (especially on its Arabic channel). It was systematically turned from a champion of Egyptians (during the Arab Spring) into the enemy of the state, when it refused to stand arm-in-arm with the rest of Egyptian media in the propaganda to dehumanize Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party and supporters, a necessary pre-condition to depose Morsi and reinstate military rule.

To be clear, Al-Jazeera cannot be considered “free” press because it has to abide by Qatar’s laws, which for example, prohibit it from speaking unfavorably about the Qatari royal family. However, nearly every single government channel is biased in one-way or the other to its “ruling party”. Consider RT, from Russia—when is the last time it issued a scathing report on Putin? Or consider the Saudi bloc’s own channels, some of which have published the most embarrassing stories, ignoring even the most basic journalistic standards. Similar demands could be made to shut down Saudi and UAE media. Can Qatar demand Al-Arabiya to be shut down?

While far from perfect, Al-Jazeera especially its English channel, has received global accolades for some fantastic reporting. And even acknowledging Al-Jazeera Arabic’s failings, what right does one country have to impose its will on the media of another country? Such demands are unprecedented and silencing media outlets causes much harm. If Al-Jazeera’s media coverage is unfair, let its watchers and readers make that determination by giving them access to it, along with alternatives. If one is on the right side, then what does one have to fear? Competition should be on ideas, not on censorship!

If Qatar sponsors terrorism, where is the proof for its (official) involvement?

This might be by far the most inane demand, for lack of better words. The Saudi bloc is accusing Qatar of being a supporter of terrorism, a charge that has been used over and over for political purposes around the globe. Donald Trump used the fear of terrorism for his own election by making Muslims the global bogeyman. In Egypt, Sisi used the media to paint MB and even its supporters as terrorists, turning a democratically elected government into purveyors of terrorism, with no evidence except planted stories and loud media voices. Similarly Qatar faced a barrage of negative op-eds in USA papers over the last few months, to soil its reputation.

Looking at documented incidents of terrorism in the West, has there ever been a Qatari or even an expat from Qatar involved in terrorism? No. Yet, one cannot say the same about the Saudi, UAE, or Egypt. Could citizens of Qatar be involved in ISIS? While not documented so far, it is possible, but there have been documented cases of citizens of USA, UK and other Western states in ISIS. The question is has Qatar officially supported ISIS in any form? And the answer is a resounding no.

As far as funding terrorism, most of this relates to the Syrian civil war. As we all know, all parties in this conflict are united against Assad. Yet, different parties have chosen to support different entities at different times based on illusions of effectiveness. Could some of this money end up in the wrong hands? Absolutely. In fact, any funds from any nation, including the Saudi bloc, the United States, or any of the multitudes of players could end up in the wrong hands.

Thus, needless to say the terrorism charges against Qatar are obscure at best. And things will become even more clear once the USA firm headed by the US Attorney General during Sept. 11 attacks, John Ashcroft, finishes reviewing measures in place to prevent and detect efforts to launder funds and/or to use its financial systems to finance terrorist organizations

If Turkey must leave Qatar, can China ask USA troops to leave Korea?

As for Turkey, Saudi bloc sees MB shades in Erdogan’s government, although ironically Erdogan is nowhere close to implementing Islamic sharia in its borders relative to say Saudi Arabia. But again, it is not about ground-reality in Turkey; Saudi wants to impose its will of shutting down MB activities and the more powerful Turkey stands in its way. Thus, Saudi wants Qatar to evict Turkish troops, while one observes, leaving US troops there. On what international legal ground can one country demand another country to evict one country’s troops and leave another’s there? Can China ask USA troops to vacate Korea? What about foreign troops in Saudi and Bahrain?

Other Red Herrings:

The Saudi bloc also dislikes Qatar for allowing offices of Taliban and Hamas. The presence of official representatives in Qatar permits counter-parties to meet at a neutral location, which is to facilitate peaceful and political resolutions. You cannot shut down voices; you can just force them to move somewhere else, which may make it even harder to come to reasonable terms with them. Even the USA has engaged in discussions with Taliban in Qatar. And Qatar has hosted Palestinian unity efforts. So, is this a case of facilitating peace or fomenting terrorism?

Conclusion

In conclusion, while no party is absolutely right in its positions, the demands of the Saudi bloc are egregious and dishonest, and reek of bullying. Were Qatar to cede to such demands, it will be one step away from ceding its complete sovereignty to another country. No sovereign nation can accept such dictation of its own internal and foreign policies. It is time for the Saudi bloc to sit down with Qatar and neutral third parties and try to find areas where Qatar can pacify concerns that do have a direct impact in the Saudi bloc. Qatar does not have to agree with its neighbors on all issues, in order to live peacefully with them. For example USA and Mexico don’t see eye to eye on many issues, including seething hatred between its current leaders, but has USA blockaded Mexico and demanded it follow US principles? No.

It is time for the Saudi bloc to grow up to international standards of diplomacy.

Tez Ilyas: 'When comics talk about religion, it's not very funny'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 August, 2017 - 09:31

His show Made in Britain debunked myths about Muslims in the UK. As he returns to Edinburgh, Tez Ilyas talks about the cut and thrust of panel shows and why the fringe is like a freshers’ week for standups

Hi, Tez. This is your third standup show. What’s it all about?
In the crudest terms, the first one was about religion, the second was about culture and this is about politics. It’s called Teztify. I confront a lot of the assumptions people make about me. The main one is that I’m religious in a secular world and an extremely secular industry. I had a working-class upbringing in Blackburn, my politics are leftwing and I’m a man of colour – these are what I talk about.

Related: Tez Ilyas review – clever comedy about British National Pakistani life

Related: Laugh a minute: Edinburgh festival's 2017 comedy lineup

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How the ‘homophobic Muslim’ became a populist bogeyman | Moustafa Bayoumi

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 August, 2017 - 06:00

US Muslims are now more tolerant than many Christian groups. If you listened to Trump, Le Pen and Anne Marie Waters, you’d believe that was impossible

Here’s something you may not have thought likely. A majority of American Muslims now believes that it’s fine to be gay. The latest Pew Research Centre survey, published on 26 July, tells us that most think homosexuality “should be accepted by society”. The poll further shows how dramatically acceptance has risen, nearly doubling from 27% to 52% since 2007 (among millennial Muslims, it’s 60%). Muslims may lag behind the general public, for whom the corresponding figure on this issue is 63%, but they poll at exactly the same percentage as Protestants and far above white evangelical Christians, a mere 34% of whom believe that homosexuality should be tolerated.

If you have actually spent some time with American Muslims you won’t be surprised by these numbers. I’m not. This is a multifaceted group of people, representing many different and sometimes conflicting tendencies and traditions. But the Pew data shows us that the overall tilt of the community, even while it is itself contending with high levels of discrimination, is progressive and optimistic.

The idea that Muslims represent a civilisational threat to the west is so widespread that it is seen as a truism

Related: Bigot who would lead Ukip is a product of our times | Nick Cohen

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The Lexit delusion

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 August, 2017 - 19:08

Picture of the chamber of the European Parliament in Brussels. Seats are arranged in a semi-circle with an aisle separating them. A lectern is at the front with a blue backing; a row of 11 seats faces the semi-circle with a high-backed seat in the middle. A small EU flag hangs on the wall at the back, and larger, furled-up flags of the member states hang on either side of it.It’s no secret that the bulk of the support for the campaign to pull the UK out of the European Union last year came from the Right — UKIP and large sections of the Tory party — but it has been part of the hard Left’s campaign for decades as well, was Labour policy in the early 1980s and has the support of a number of Labour MPs; Jeremy Corbyn’s support for remaining in was thought to be lukewarm. The other day I saw a conversation between two online friends after one of them asked if anyone she knew who had voted for Brexit could tell her why. The other responded that the EU was “neoliberal, ruled by people lacking both public support and expertise, vindictive, selfish and tyrannical”, examples being the treatment of Greece and migrants. As true as these things might be, they are all at least as much British diseases as European ones.

Neoliberalism is an ideology which has found most favour in the UK, the USA and in various dictatorships allied to US interests, most famously Chile under General Pinochet who offered US-trained economists what were described as “laboratory conditions”, i.e. an oppressed populace that they did not need to answer to at the ballot box. It favours controlling the money supply so as to reduce inflation to the minimum (monetarism) and reducing state regulation on businesses, the doctrine being that regulation deters and hinders investment and economic activity and, by extension, jobs. This is typically associated with Tory policies in the 1980s and then Blair in the 1990s and 2000s. It is widely acknowledged that we do not really live in a free market and that companies receive favour rather than merely light-touch regulation from the state, and that risks are often socialised and profits privatised.

It is a fact that Britain has privatised industries that remain in state hands in much of Europe, and indeed that some of our industries are owned by foreign state enterprises such as Deutsche Bahn, the German state railway authority (which owns the Arriva bus company as well as a number of rail franchises). It is also a fact that John Major’s government, when negotiating Britain’s accession to the 1992 Maastricht treaty, negotiated an opt-out for Britain from the Social Chapter which includes a number of improvements to workers’ rights including maternity leave, rights for temporary workers, limitations on child labour and a 48-hour maximum working week. (This policy was reversed when Labour came to power in 1997.) Other countries in Europe have laws protecting tenants that are much stronger than ours, to the extent that in many countries renting is the norm, not something people do just because they cannot afford to buy. In much of developed mainland Europe and Scandinavia, rent laws are assessed as being pro-tenant or strongly pro-tenant, while in the UK and the less developed parts of Europe, they are assessed as being pro-landlord.

So, while the EU is certainly a free-trade union devoted to abolishing tariffs and other barriers to the movement of goods and people, it nonetheless accommodates the strong mixed economies of northern and western Europe as well as avowedly neo-liberal ones such as ours. If the EU can be called neo-liberal, it will be very largely the result of British influence and withdrawing the UK from the EU will not make the UK less neo-liberal, but rather, remove a strongly pro-business and anti-regulation voice from the room when future European laws and treaties are negotiated. At best, this is no guarantee of moving towards a socialist UK; if anything, it will make it much easier for the Tories to pass more laws that strip workers and tenants of rights.

As for its treatment of migrants, again, Britain is no better in this regard. Britain detains asylum seekers, often those with well-founded fears of persecution including rape and other torture, and well into the Blair years it detained children and families as well as adult asylum seekers. It routinely refuses asylum claims of people from countries where political repression and sectarian violence is known (e.g. Uganda), often on the basis of backroom deals with the countries concerned. The UK instigated a crackdown on “foreign criminals”, detaining a number of people who had been convicted of minor offences years ago who had served their time, on the whim of the Daily Mail, which has also been a prominent voice against European integration and in favour of Brexit. The EU does not stop Germany taking a very substantial number of refugees from Syria, nor other countries from refusing them. Withdrawing the UK will not make us any more liberal in this regard; more likely the opposite.

She then said she would accept a “difficult transition” under Theresa May as a sort of stepping stone to a Corbyn-run left-wing government outside the EU. That, sadly, is something that will not happen; Brexit will bring crises as crops remain unpicked (this is already happening), home-grown and imported food will be more expensive as will imports of other manufactured goods which are currently subject to unified WTO tariffs through the EU. This could easily cause major unrest and the instinct of many will be to blame foreigners and the EU rather than to consider how to mitigate the problems. We are likely to see a rise in racist attacks on any foreign-looking or foreign-sounding people, including British citizens, and distraction stories about terrorist plots, Muslims refusing to integrate, FGM and the such like.

There is no valid left-wing case for withdrawing the UK from the EU as things stand. This may, of course, change, but in 2017 the pressure towards Neo-liberalism in the EU is coming largely from the UK and the countries with strong protections for workers’ and tenants’ rights, with state education systems that the wealthy and powerful use as well as everyone else’s, with nationalised railways etc. will be left in and will be more powerful as a result, to the benefit of their citizens and not to us. There is no evidence that the British public will rush to Corbyn once the Tory Brexiteers plunge the country into the abyss; he failed to win the last election and in fact lost seats in the Labour northern heartlands and failed to win back those lost by Miliband in 2015. I think it irresponsible to advocate a course of action that will lead to avoidable crisis and unrest in the vain hope that something better will come out of it.

Image source: Ash Crow, via Wikipedia; original here. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 licence.

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FBI leads search for suspects after Minneapolis Somali mosque explosion

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 August, 2017 - 12:52
  • No injuries reported after ‘improvised explosive device’ hits center
  • Blast is latest in string of anti-Muslim incidents across US

The FBI was searching for suspects after an explosive device tore through part of a suburban Minneapolis mosque on Saturday, as people were preparing for morning prayers. A room was damaged but the blast did not cause any injuries, authorities and witnesses said.

Related: The Muslim Americans leading the push to 'stand up and be leaders' in politics

Related: Dearborn, Michigan: a divided city grappling with what it means to be Muslim and American

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Why Pakistan and India remain in denial 70 years on from partition

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 August, 2017 - 00:04
The division of British India was poorly planned and brutally carried out, as fear and revenge attacks led to a bloody sectarian ‘cleansing’

On 3 June 1947, only six weeks before British India was carved up, a group of eight men sat around a table in New Delhi and agreed to partition the south Asian subcontinent.

Photographs taken at that moment reveal the haunted and nervous faces of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian National Congress leader soon to become independent India’s first prime minister, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, head of the Muslim League and Pakistan’s first governor-general and Louis Mountbatten,the last British viceroy.

Related: Partition, 70 years on: Salman Rushdie, Kamila Shamsie and other writers reflect

There is still a mystery at the dark heart of partition. It remains a history layered with absence and silences

Related: India, 70 years on from independence: a painful history but a bright future? | Letters

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The Handmaid’s Tale: speculation so white

Indigo Jo Blogs - 5 August, 2017 - 18:50

Picture of a young white woman in a long red robe with a large white bonnet that stops her seeing other than in front of her, exiting a brick building.The Hulu TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel set in a New England taken over by a fundamentalist Christian theocratic police state that styles itself the Republic of Gilead, concluded on Channel 4 last Sunday night. The series (like the novel) follows the story of Offred, AKA June, who has been conscripted as a ‘handmaid’ to provide children to wealthy élite families in a society beset by a so-called plague of infertility which seems to be affecting other countries (such as Mexico) as well. The series has been described as not fiction but “a warning” by an Australian feminist columnist, and it seems many people are watching it despite finding it distressing, most likely because everyone is talking about it so everyone else needs to understand it. I found it a very weak and unbelievable piece of TV and its biggest weaknesses are its back-story and its handling of race, which are connected.

The novel was written in the mid-1980s and set at the turn of the present century; the TV series appears to be set about now or in the near future. The novel was clearly set in an age following a war, most likely a nuclear war although Agent Orange was mentioned as a reason why people cannot conceive healthy babies; there are only the barest references to that in the series, mostly to the “colonies” where women who refused to be Handmaids or Jezebels (prostitutes in officially tolerated brothels) are sent to “clean up toxic waste” and die. The novel is a sort of cross between 1984 and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids, a book set in Labrador after a “tribulation” has rendered most of North America uninhabitable; that is also a fundamentalist Christian society which fetishises “the Norm” as the war has resulted in widespread birth defects which are referred to as “Offences” or “Blasphemies”, and anyone with so much as an extra toe is killed. At the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, there is a transcript of a conference on “Gileadian Studies”, set a hundred years into the future, which puts the material sourced from Offred in context. That is missing from the TV series which ends with Offred being taken away in the back of a van by two men in black, who may be taking her out of the country or to prison or her death; she does not know, and we are not told.

The war seems to have had no environmental impact on the parts of Gilead we see, other than the fertility problems, which are otherwise unexplained though briefly alluded to in the scenes set before the takeover. Apart from people mutilated as punishments, such as the Handmaid whose eye is removed after she tries to run away during training, we see no disabled people, which we would expect to after a war. This fact is never mentioned. Why so many women are supposedly infertile despite being otherwise perfectly healthy (which I suspect they would not be, if the cause was environmental) is not explained either. American conservatives are in general capitalists who serve and defend corporate interests and oppose regulation and state welfare and healthcare, yet capitalism is muted or absent here; there is little talk of money and no advertising to be seen, for example. Life outside the élite, even that of the so-called Econowives from the book, is not mentioned anywhere. There are also some strange inconsistencies: how is it that June and her daughter were captured trying to flee to Canada and her partner escaped only through great danger, but Moira, her friend from before the takeover who had been forced into the Jezebels, gets out very easily with no apparent help from anyone by stealing a client’s car?

A scene set in a green field with trees surrounding it, with women in identical red robes kneeling on the grass in rows and columns, with armed men in black surrounding them.Gilead is also suspiciously, and mysteriously, racially integrated. This is by far the biggest credibility problem. Gilead is a highly stratified society in which nobody really has any rights although some people have a lot of power, but you find people of all races at every level including Commanders, which was not the case in the book, in which Black Americans had been exiled to a colony in the Midwest. Although we are told Catholics are being persecuted and nuns executed by public hanging from a crane, people of other religions such as Muslims and Hindus are also absent. Both these absences and the mysterious racial harmony are never remarked upon. This is odd, to say the least. American Christian conservatives are not openly, ideologically racist, but they tend to prosper in areas where they can appeal to a racist vote, to stereotypes understood to be of people who are Black, poor or (usually) both, and they are also notorious for trying to peel back protections for Black people’s right to vote, for supporting laws which are impediments to voter registration and opposing those which make it easier to vote. Although they are in favour of banning or restricting abortion, their principal injustices have been against Black and poor people of both sexes, not women. It’s ridiculous to suppose that these sorts of people could produce a racially integrated society, where racism was so thoroughly defeated that it is not even spoken of, in the space of a few years. The series’ ‘showrunner’, Bruce Miller, explained that “it just felt like in a world where birth rates have fallen so precipitously, fertility would trump everything”, but that does not explain why the absence of racism or race as an issue is never mentioned. Besides, many racists actually would not think like that.

In Orwell’s 1984, Winston Smith hears about an underground conspiracy and believes that his inner-party handler, O’Brien, is in on it (he is in fact a Thought Police agent who later tortures Smith). The fake ‘Brotherhood’ he tries to join is echoed here by ‘Mayday’ which Offred hears rumours of among the Handmaids and later tries to retrieve a package for, which turns out to be writings by women captured and imprisoned during the Gilead takeover. Offred does not know if the men who take her away are members of ‘Mayday’ or state agents, but I’m inclined to believe the latter especially given that it came right after she instigated a mass refusal by the Handmaids to stone another Handmaid to death after she attempted suicide when her Commander (who had been having an affair with her rather than just having ceremonial sex with her in front of his wife) dumped her and gave the child to his wife, as was usual with Handmaids.

Picture of a late-middle-age white woman wearing a brown hooded robe with a whistle round her neck and holding a microphone in her hand.The series does explore the relationship between Offred and Serena, her Commander’s wife, showing Offred’s fear and Serena’s resentment of Offred which abates somewhat when she gets pregnant (meaning no more ‘ceremonies’) — pregnant Handmaids are treated with extreme kindness by both the couple and their servants — and returns with a vengeance when it turns out she was not pregnant after all. Despite the series being ten, hour-long episodes long, no other classes of women except (briefly) the ‘Jezebels’ are examined in detail; we do not see much of the lives of the so-called Marthas, who include the servants in the Waterford household (and are also seen guarding the ‘Jezebels’), or how they came into that role; in the book they were older, infertile women, but the Waterfords’ servants do not seem to be that old. And it’s a decent portrayal of a ‘total’ police state in which people’s interaction with each other is monitored and controlled, where friendship is fleeting and nobody is able to trust anyone.

But I wouldn’t describe the programme as essential viewing. It’s over-long, and I regularly had to look at the Wikipedia descriptions of each episode (which were available as the episodes were shown in the UK weeks after they aired in the USA) to keep up. For what its author claims is ‘speculative fiction’ rather than sci-fi, the society it portrays is unconvincing and the backstory and connection to present trends is weak. It has been claimed that all the oppressions depicted in the programme have happened somewhere, but they are out of context: it was not women but Black people that were banned from reading and writing; nowhere are women expected to wear a ‘uniform’ all the time (even in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, women wear ‘normal’ clothes under the outer clothes, which actually is not a uniform, and when at home, which is not the case here). We keep hearing that the story is of added importance in the age of Trump, but Trump is an amoral, anti-religious capitalist, not a religious fundamentalist and real fundamentalists in the USA show no enthusiasm for a police state or depriving women of rights beyond restricting abortion and birth control pills. Only race-blind, middle-class white feminism could produce ten hours of TV with such a weak narrative on race and none on class like this. So there’s no need to watch this if it is distressing; it’s not real, and it’s not realistic.

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Dumping Hopkins didn’t hurt LBC’s ratings

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 August, 2017 - 23:07

A black and white photo of a man in a German army uniform looking through barbed wire at a topless man with ribs showing through emaciation, an a number of prisoners sitting in the background on the same side of the barbed wire fence.LBC sees audience numbers rise after Katie Hopkins departure | The Independent

According to Rajar, the organisation which researches the listener base of radio and TV stations, the national talk station LBC did not lose listeners as a result of sacking Katie Hopkins, a professional bigot who had a slot on the station until she was sacked in May this year after saying a “final solution” (a term used by the Nazis to refer to the Holocaust) to terrorism was needed after the bombing in Manchester that month, and in fact its figures increased in the quarter from April to June. (Hat tip: MEND.)

A lot of people who listen to local radio stations do so for local and traffic news (which LBC has despite having gone national a few years ago; they were originally a London talk station), so sacking a host will have less impact on a local station than on a national one, but even so, any change of presenter is likely to cause a temporary dent in listenership figures as a new show, however good, will be an uknown quantity at first and need time to ‘bed in’ and build up its audience. That Hopkins’s departure did not have that effect suggests that she was putting people off, not bringing them in.

I was a regular listener to the BBC London morning show in the mid-2000s and I remember what happened the week after bully-boy host Jon Gaunt was replaced, temporarily, with Geoff Schumann: the following week, there was new caller after new caller who had not dared call in when Gaunt was on the other end of the line. How many of them were new listeners I don’t know, although perhaps they might have started listening more frequently after Gaunt left. But the moral is that managers should not be afraid to ditch a host who, despite their big name, is a bully or bigot or thrives on needless controversy, because it may bring new listeners in and, importantly for a station with a lot of phone-ins, lead to new voices joining the ‘conversation’.

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