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Disaster waiting to happen

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 January, 2020 - 18:37
A white Mercedes articulated lorry with the "dnata" logo in blue on the side curtain. Its cab is in a stream and being pulled out by a red mobile crane during the night.The DNATA truck being recovered from the Longford River, 31st Dec 2019.

Yesterday a car and a truck collided on a road I’ve travelled along a lot while doing air freight work around Heathrow airport, namely the Bedfont Road south of the Longford and Duke of Northumberland Rivers which form the southern boundary of the airport, resulting in the death of three of the passengers in the car (all British Airways employees) and injury to a fourth (the truck driver, as might be expected, was much less seriously injured but was taken to hospital as a precaution). The truck belonged to DNATA, a Dubai-owned company which operates three big cargo sheds off that road, serving numerous major and minor airlines including Emirates, Qatar, El Al, Virgin Atlantic, Turkish Airlines and many others (it happened outside another shed which they do not own). Cargo sheds, for anyone who isn’t aware, are big warehouses where cargo is dropped off to be screened before being put on an aeroplane; alternatively, it can be screened elsewhere, or held securely after manufacture and delivered as “known” or “secure cargo”. (See earlier post for details about the congestion at the Heathrow cargo centre which led to those sheds being built there.)

Bedfont Road is a busy road. It’s also a narrow road, just wide enough for two vehicles to pass with care in places, and has numerous blind bends and a 40mph speed limit, and comes off a dual carriageway which links the A30 with the Heathrow perimeter road (also both dual carriageways). All the alternative routes have weight and/or width limits. Of course, if everyone drives carefully, accidents like this won’t happen but roads cannot be designed on the presumption that everyone will and driver distraction is a fact of life. It seems to have been built well before the cargo sheds when it was just the road from Bedfont to Stanwell village, which has a 7.5-tonne weight limit, but it now carries vehicles which are just too big for the road space. It needs to be widened and the blind bends straightened out, and possibly the speed limit reduced given the large number of side turnings used by large articulated trucks. I expect, however, that only the last of these will be put in place as it will be both the cheapest and least disruptive, but a car which hits a 44-tonne truck at 30mph does not stand much more chance than it stands at 40mph.

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Evliya Celebi at the Sulaymaniyyah Mosque in Istanbul

Inayat's Corner - 1 January, 2020 - 12:58

As a new year begins, I am grateful that I was able to once again visit Istanbul last year. A few years ago, I purchased An Ottoman Traveller: Selections from the Book of Travels of Evliya Celebi. Celebi lived in 17th Century (1611 – c. 1685) and spent his adult life travelling extensively both inside and outside the Ottoman domains including the Caucasus, Crete, Azerbaijan, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Rumelia, Eastern Anatolia, Iraq, Iran, Russia, the Balkans, the Netherlands, Hungary, Austria, Crimea, Greece, the Arab Peninsula, Sudan and Egypt. Today he would be described as a travel writer. His observations were published as a ten-volume manuscript, the Seyahatname or the Book of Travels. An Ottoman Traveller is a selection of extracts from the Book of Travels.

Evliya Celebi’s the Book of Travels is described by the translators/editors Robert Dankoff and Sooyong Kim in the introduction as:

“…probably the longest and most ambitious travel account by any writer in any language, and a key text for all aspects of the Ottoman Empire at the time of its greatest extension in the seventeenth century. It is also the product of an unusual personality – a cultured Ottoman gentleman, pious yet unconventional, observant and inquisitive, curious about everything, obsessive about travelling, determined to leave a complete record of his travels.”

My highlight of visiting Istanbul is always going to the Sulaymaniyyah mosque built (1543-57) on the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent (ruled 1520 – 1566). Below are some extracts from Evliya’s Celebi’s observations about the Sulaymaniyyah mosque in Istanbul taken from An Ottoman Traveller. I have added pictures taken from the internet to illustrate some of the Celebi’s passages. I have also added the original Arabic of the Qur’an to the translated passages for those who like to decipher the calligraphy.

= = = = =

Description of the Mosque of Sultan Sulayman

It was begun in the year 1543 and finished in the year 1557, and is an exemplary mosque beyond description. The learned men who compose histories, and thus strike the dye on marble, have confessed the inability and failure of the best chroniclers to celebrate this unequalled mosque. Now, this humble Evliya ventures to write down in praises in as much as I am able.

First, this mosque divides in half the ground of old palace the Conqueror had earlier built. On top of the high hill, Sulayman Khan built a unique mosque overlooking the sea. How many thousands of master architects, builders, labourers, stonecutters and marble cutters from all the Ottoman dominions had he gathered! And for three whole years 3000 galley slaves, foot-bound in chains, would lay the foundation deep into the ground, so deep that the world-bearing bull at the bottom of the earth could hear the sound of their pickaxes. They dug until they had reached the deepest part, and in three years, by erecting a platform, the foundation was built up to the surface.

…The bowl of the indigo-coloured dome of this great mosque, up to its lofty summit, is more spherical than that of Aya Sofya, and is seven royal cubits in height.

Apart from the square piers supporting this incomparable dome, there are four porphyry columns on the right and left sides of the mosque, each one worth ten Egyptian treasures. These columns were from Egypt, transported along the Nile to Alexandria. From there Karinca Kapudan loaded them onto rafts and, with favourable wind, brought them to Unkapanu in Istanbul and then to Vefa Square…These four columns of red porphyry are each fifty cubits high. God knows, there is nothing like them in the four corners of the world.

The multi-coloured stained windows above the prayer-niche and the pulpit are the work of Sarhos Ibrahim. Mere men are too impotent to praise them. At noon, when these windows let in the rays of the world-illuming sun, the mosque interior shines with light, dazzling the eyes of the congregation. Each pane contains a myriad of varicoloured glass bits, in designs of flowers and of the beautiful names of God in calligraphy. They are celebrated by travellers on land and sea as a sight not matched in the heavens.

The prayer-niche and pulpit and the muezzin’s gallery are made of pure white marble…the lofty pulpit is made of raw marble and has a crown-like canopy, matched only by the pulpit in the Sinop mosque. And the prayer-niche could be that of Solomon himself. Above the niche, gold on azure by the hand of Karahisari, is inscribed the verse, Whenever Zacharias visited her in the Niche (3:37).

كُلَّمَا دَخَلَ عَلَيْهَا زَكَرِيَّا الْمِحْرَابَ

…There has never been to this day, nor will there ever be, any calligraphy like that of Ahmad Karahisari both inside and outside this mosque. The Creator granted him success in this field. First, in the centre of the big dome, is inscribed the verse: God is the light of the heavens and earth. His light may be compared to a niche that enshrines a lamp, the lamp within a crystal of star-like brilliance (24:35). He has truly displayed his skill in rendering this Light Verse.

…This mosque has five doors…Written over the left side door is: Peace be to you for all that you have steadfastly endured. Blessed is the recompense of paradise (13:24).

سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ بِمَا صَبَرْتُمْ ۚ فَنِعْمَ عُقْبَى الدَّارِ

Because Sulayman Khan is the conqueror of the seven climes, his name is mentioned not only here but in Friday sermons. And in all the lands of Islam, there is no building stronger and more solid than the Sulaymaniyyah. All architectural experts agree on this, and also that nowhere on earth has such an enamel dome been seen.

Within and outside this mosque the foundation is firm, the buildings elegant, and every piece of ornamentation the work of wondrous magic of extreme perfection. When the construction ended, the Grand Architect Sinan said, “My Padishah, I have built for you a mosque so solid that on Judgement Day, when the mountains are carded like cotton, the dome of this mosque will roll like a polo ball before the carder’s bow string of Hallaj Mansur.”

…Once this humble one observed ten Frankish infidels with expert knowledge of geometry and architecture who were touring this light-filled mosque. The gatekeepers had let them in, and the caretakers had given them special shoes so they could walk around and see it. Wherever they looked, they put finger to mouth and bit it in astonishment. But when they say the doors inlaid with Indian mother-of-pearl, they shook their head and bit two fingers each. And when they saw the enamel dome, they threw off their Frankish hats and cried out in awe, ‘Maria, Maria!’

…This humble one requested their interpreter to ask them how they liked this building. One of them turned out to be capable of speech. He said, ‘All things, whether created beings or man-made structures, are beautiful either on the inside or on the outside. Rarely are the two beauties found together. But both the interior and exterior of this mosque were constructed with such grace and refinement. In all of Frengistan we have not seen an edifice built to such perfection as this.’

Editor’s Choice: Top 10 Articles Of 2019

Muslim Matters - 31 December, 2019 - 06:42

MuslimMatters is grateful to Allah for our readers and our writers for collaborating to build the Muslim Internet’s most widely read online magazine. It is an honor to publish every article that goes up on the site. Here are the editor’s choices from the top most read articles of 2019.

10. Reflections on Muslim Approaches to the Abortion Debate: The Problem of Narrow Conceptualization | Sh Salman Younas

This comprehensive scholarly essay, published in August, was nuanced and forces the reader to take a step back and holistically look at the issue of abortion. Shaykh Salman, a traditional trained scholar, is completing his PhD at Oxford University on early Hanafi fiqh.

American Muslims must go beyond simplistic and emotionally-charged approaches to the abortion question. This issue, like many others, cannot be properly addressed through a narrowly defined law, politics, or clash of ideologies narrative, especially at the level of individual fatwā, communal irshād, or political activism, advocacy, and legislation.Click To Tweet 9. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf And The Question of Rebellion In The Islamic Tradition | Dr Usaama al-Azami

In this September piece, which predated many controversies, Dr Azami, a Departmental Lecturer in Contemporary Islamic Studies at the University of Oxford argues against Shaykh Hamza’s contention that the Islamic tradition has uniformly called for rendering obedience to tyrannical rule.

8. What Fasting Demands From Us | Mufti Taqi Uthmani

This article was a Ramadan treat, a translation of the work by the esteemed South Asian scholar.

It is, however, important when there is the temptation, the heart desires it, and the environment encourages it, and then in submission to the command of Allah one says, “مَعَاذَ الله” “I seek refuge of Allah” (Surah Yūsuf, 12:24). This is the worship that Allah has created mankind.Click To Tweet

Ramaḍān is commonly viewed as only a month of fasting and tarāwīḥ, and that there is no other significance to it. Without a doubt, the fasting and the tarāwīḥ prayers are two major acts of worship in this month. However, the reality is that the blessed month of Ramaḍān demands more from us.

7. When Faith Hurts | Zeba Khan

This piece by our Director of Development and regular writer, Zeba Khan, hit a nerve with many readers. It went deep into recognizing that faith is not a protection from pain, and pain is not the absence of faith.

Our spiritual education is broken. In order to fix it, we have to be upfront with each other. We have to admit that we can be happy with Allah and still find ourselves devastated by the tests He puts before us, because faith is not a protection from struggle.Click To Tweet 6. Emotional Intelligence: A Tool for Change | Imam Mikaeel Smith

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) displayed perfection in both moral intelligence and interpersonal understanding and the author, Imam Mikaeel Smith encapsulates this in his book on Prophetic emotional intelligence.

Moral Intelligence helps us maintain our ideals and live by them, while Emotional Intelligence ensures that the message is effectively communicated to othersClick To Tweet

Emotional Intelligence by itself is not sufficient for individual reform or societal reform; instead, it is only one part of the puzzle. The ʿaql or intellect that is referenced repeatedly in the Qurʾān is a more comprehensive tool that not only recognizes how to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of people but recognizes morally upright and sound behavior.

5. Sri Lankan Muslims To Fast In Solidarity With Fellow Christians | Raashid Riza

Mainstream Muslims have in fact been at the forefront not just locally, but also internationally in the fight against extremism within Muslim communities. Sri Lankan Muslims, a numerical minority, though a well-integrated native community in Sri Lanka’s colourful social fabric, seek to take lead in helping to alleviate the suffering currently plaguing our nation. This article is on this list not just because it was an excellent read but because of the positive effect it had on repairing divides causes by the attacks.

4. Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #2: Do Women Desire Sex? | Saba Syed, Zeba Khan

In this episode, the Loving Muslim Marriage team asks an obvious question with what seems like an obvious answer – do women need sex? Obviously, yes. If that’s the case though, then why is expressing a sexual need, or seeking help for sexual issues such a taboo in Muslim cultures? Obviously many people wanted to learn more.

3. Are You Prepared for Marriage and Building a Family? | Mona Islam

The article is a curriculum for young Muslims with real life examples that parents, teachers and youth groups can use. Expert curriculum designer, Mona Islam, emphasizes on the need for this education in middle and high school.

In retrospect, we learn that marriage is not simply a door that we walk through which changes our life, but something that each young Muslim and Muslima should be preparing for individually through observation, introspection, and reflection.Click To Tweet 2. The Day I Die | Imam Omar Suleiman

Imam Omar’s column never fails to uplift readers. This was his most poignant post.

A wise man once said to me, “Always put your funeral in front of you, and work backwards in constructing your life accordingly.” With the deaths of righteous people, that advice always advances to the front of my thoughts.Click To Tweet 1.  Few Can Build Many Can Destroy | Sh Mohammad ElShinawy 

With so many internal and external forces bent on crushing our souls. this article compels us to adopt the Quranic formula for returning the ummah to health; focus on developing the good, more than destroying the evil.

The Quran also nurtured in its reader’s spirit the magnificence of God, far more than it illustrated the futility of idol-worship, all because deepening your understanding of who Allah is will always outperform identifying who Allah is not, and because the second will naturally happen once the first has been secured.Click To Tweet

InshaAllah, we will publish lesser read pieces that were gems that readers may  have missed. 

The post Editor’s Choice: Top 10 Articles Of 2019 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Why did they stay in the Labour Party?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 30 December, 2019 - 22:50
Picture of two white men in their 30s standing against a blue-grey background.Douglas Murray and Andrew Doyle

Last week Douglas Murray, a self-proclaimed neo-con best known for a speech in which he called for life for Muslims to be made more difficult across the board in the wake of the terrorist attacks of the early 2000s, was then a director of the Henry Jackson Society, wrote a book called The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam and more recently has announced a tour of the UK offering “an evening with” him and Andrew Doyle (of Titania McGrath fame) with a routine focussed on attacking ‘woke’ culture, published a piece on the website Unherd in which he suggested that Labour would have difficulty recovering from the “toxic mess” of the Corbyn years. He suggested that whoever succeeds Corbyn should be expected to answer for why they remained in the party when it became, on the authority of Chuka Umunna (who left the party this year, helped to form the Independents’ Group, since dissolved, then defected again to the Lib Dems, stood in Westminster instead of his old Streatham seat and lost), an “institutionally racist” party.

In my opinion it’s a little hypocritical for a man who called for life for a minority to be made difficult and who has started to make a living out of attacking the so-called woke police, meaning people who stand up against displays of racism in the media and academia, to be complaining of “institutional racism” just because the minority suffering is a different one to those he has been attacking, or are on the receiving end of racism more generally in society. Previously the best-known institution to be accused officially of institutional racism, by the Macpherson Report, was none other than the Metropolitan Police, and this was after a young Black man was murdered in London by five racist white youths, only two of whom have been convicted and then more than 20 years later; the police bungled the investigation, preferring to harass the victim’s friend rather than investigate the murder. Perhaps Douglas Murray plans to interview serving police officers and ask them why they remained in an organisation condemned as institutionally racist in an official inquiry report.

Nobody has suggested that Corbyn adopted policies that threatened Jewish life or property in the UK, or advocated or defended discrimination against them, or advocated their deportation. It’s often used against Labour that it’s only the second party to be investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the previous one being the British National Party, but the BNP was founded by Nazis from the old National Front, had a policy of repatriation and did not allow non-whites to be members. None of this is true of the Labour party. The claims against the Labour party are of an entirely different order to the BNP and for that matter the Metropolitan Police: that some Jewish members feel uncomfortable (though others do not), some have said they were bullied, that “anti-Semitic tropes” have been used by some Labour figures (and some of these claims are plainly spurious, often based on straining the definition through the needle’s eye) and that others have expressed hostility to Israel, including suggesting that it should not exist. Very many of the utterances which have been exposed were said years ago, often well before they were involved in the Labour party, and were sometimes on private forums, or were discovered as a result of a trawl through someone’s social media accounts.

As for why people remained, there are numerous reasons. Jess Phillips, one of the MPs Murray suggests should be interrogated, was always critical of Corbyn and contemptuous of some of his allies; Kier Starmer was personally untainted by the scandal and is also known not to be in agreement with Corbyn on very much and has been touted as a moderate successor to Corbyn. Many of them will have known that the Labour party was by far the most likely party other than the Tories to form the next government — our system makes forming new parties notoriously difficult — and believed that removing the Tories was essential to save what is left of the welfare-oriented British state, including the health system, and to revitalise the education system which is currently being starved of funds as normally happens during a Tory government. They also believed that there was a need to save the country from the Tories’ ruinous and divisive approach to Brexit. The Lib Dems previously colluded with the Tories in bringing much of this about; the Independent Group included several former Tories who had held cabinet posts under Cameron. Corbyn was popular with the membership, largely because of the mistakes of Ed Miliband between 2010 and 2015 and of his moderate rivals in 2015.

But many of them would also have been committed to the idea of the Labour Party as just that: a Labour party. Unless any new party could secure the backing of some of the trade unions, it would end up as another Lib Dem party or at best, a kind of mirror to the US Democratic Party which is largely dependent on donations from wealthy individuals, some of whom also contribute to Republican campaigns (so as to buy favours from both sides) and some of whom are of a decidedly reactionary character. Labour’s biggest single donation in the 2019 election campaign was from the Unite union which represents a very broad swathe of British organised labour. It is funded by ordinary people’s donation and gives those ordinary people a voice, should they choose to avail themselves of it (the political levy, the part of one’s union fees that go to the Labour party, is optional). There is already one party in this country which is funded by the wealthy and largely champions their interests, albeit making the necessary appeals to people of average income. We do not really need another.

But … maybe some of them really did not believe that Labour was “institutionally racist”; they knew that many of the accusations were spurious and that the campaign was a right-wing, pro-imperialist witch hunt often targeted at Black and Asian candidates and activists, including dissenting Jews. It was not an anti-racist campaign but a racist one, but had enough media traction that they may have believed it wiser to let it blow over than stand up to it. Cowardly this may have been, and facilitated by white privilege, but not anti-Semitic.

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7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

Muslim Matters - 30 December, 2019 - 05:38

It’s the end of the year, and I’m pretty sure I know what you’re thinking – after wondering if New Year’s is halal to celebrate, you probably want to lose some weight, make more money, talk to family more, or be a better Muslim in some way.  The New Year for many of us is a moment to turn a fresh page and re-imagine a better self. We make resolutions and hope despite the statistics we’ll be the outliers that don’t fail at keeping our New Year’s resolutions.

Studies show the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around finances and health. Unfortunately, they also show only a relatively small number will keep most or all of them. The rest will mostly fail within the first few weeks.

Given such a high failure rate, let’s talk about how you can be among the few who set and achieve your goals successfully.

1. Be Thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)

Allah Gives You More if You’re Thankful

You’ve been successful this past year in a number of areas. Think of your worship, career, relationships, personality, education, health (physical, mental, social, and spiritual), and finances. Take a moment to reflect on where you’ve succeeded, no matter how trivial, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo, and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for those successes.

When you’re thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), He increases you in blessings.  Allah says in the Qur’an:

“And (remember) when your Lord proclaimed, ‘If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My blessings); but if you are thankless (i.e. disbelievers), verily, My punishment is indeed severe’” [14:7] 

In recent years, there’s been more discussion on the benefits of practicing gratitude, though oftentimes it’s not clear to whom or what you’re to be grateful towards. We, of course, know that we’re not grateful simply to the great unconscious cosmos, but to our Creator.

Despite this difference, there exist interesting studies on how the practice of gratitude affect us. Some of the benefits include:

  • Better relationships with those thanked
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved psychological health
  • Enhanced empathy and reduced aggression
  • Better sleep
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Improved mental strength

Building on Your Successes

In addition to being thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), reflect on why you were successful in those areas.  What was it you did day in and day out to succeed? Analyze it carefully and think of how you can either build on top of those present successes, or how you can transport the lessons from those successes to new areas of your life to succeed there as well.

In the book Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, they note that we have a tendency to try to solve big problems with big solutions, but a better technique that has actual real-world success in solving complex problems is to instead focus on bright spots and build on those bright spots instead. You have bright spots in how you’ve worked and operated, so reflect on your successes and try to build on top of them.

2. Pick One Powerful, Impactful Goal

Oftentimes when we want to change, we try to change too many areas.  This can lead to failure quickly because change in one area is not easy, and attempting to do it in multiple areas simultaneously will simply accelerate failure.

Instead, pick one goal – a goal that you are strongly motivated to fulfill, and one that you know if you were to make that goal, it would have a profoundly positive impact on your life as well as on others whom you are responsible to.

In making the case based on scientific studies, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes:

Research has shown that you are 2x to 3x more likely to stick with your habits if you make a specific plan for when, where, and how you will perform the behavior. For example, in one study scientists asked people to fill out this sentence: “During the next week, I will partake in at least 20 minutes of vigorous exercise on [DAY] at [TIME OF DAY] at/in [PLACE].”

Further down, he states:

“However (and this is crucial to understand) follow-up research has discovered implementation intentions only work when you focus on one thing at a time.”

When setting your goal, be sure to set a SMART goal, one that is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound.  “I want to lose weight” is not a SMART goal.  “I want to achieve 10% bodyfat at 200 lbs in 9 months” is specific (you know the metrics to achieve), measurable (you can check if you hit those metrics), achievable (according to health experts, it can be done, realistic (it’s something you can do), and time-bound (9 months).

3. Repeatedly Make Du’a with Specificity

Once you lock onto your goal, you should ask for success in your goal every day, multiple times a day.  Increasing in your du’a and asking Allah for success not only brings you the help of the Most High in getting to your goal, it also ensures it remains top of mind consistently.

A few of the best ways to increase the chances of a supplication being accepted:

  • Increase the frequency of raising your hands after salah and asking for your intended outcome.
  • Asking while you are in sujood during prayers.
  • Praying and supplicating in the last 3rd of the night during qiyam ul-layl.

When you make your du’a, be specific in what you ask for, and in turn, you will have a specific rather than a vague goal at the forefront of your mind which is important because one of the major causes of failure for resolutions themselves is lacking specificity.

4. Schedule Your Goal for Consistency

The most powerful impact on the accomplishment of any goal isn’t in having the optimal technique to achieve the goal – it is rather how consistent you are in trying to achieve it.  The time and frequency given to achievement regularly establishes habits that move from struggle to lifestyle. As mentioned in the previous section, day, time, and place were all important to getting the goal, habit, or task accomplished.

In order to be consistent, schedule it in your calendar of choice. When you schedule it, make sure you:

  • Pick the time you’re most energetic and likely to do it.
  • Work out with family, friends, and work that that time is blocked out and shouldn’t be interrupted.
  • Show up even if you’re tired and unmotivated – do something tiny, just to make sure you maintain the habit.

A Word on Automation

Much continues to be written about jobs lost to automation, but there are jobs we should love losing to automation, namely, work that we do that can be done freely or very cheaply by a program.  For example, I use Mint to capture all my accounts (bank, credit card, investments, etc) and rather than the old method of gathering receipts and tracking transactions, all of it is captured online and easily accessible from any device.

Let’s say you wanted to give to charity, and you wanted to give a recurring donation of $5 a month to keep MuslimMatters free – all you have to do is set up an automated recurring donation at the link and you’re done.

Likewise, if you’re saving money for a goal, you can easily do so by automating a specific amount of money coming out of your bank account into another account via the online banking tools your bank provides.  You can automate bill payments and other tasks to clear your schedule, achieve your goals, and keep you focused on working the most important items.

5. Focus on Behaviors, Not Outcomes

We’re often told we should set up SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound.  However, one way to quickly fail a goal is by defining success according to outcomes, which aren’t necessarily in your hand.  For example, you might say as above:

“I want to be at 10% body fat in 9 months at 200 lbs.”

This is a SMART goal, and it’s what you should aim for, but when you assess success, you shouldn’t focus on the result as it’s somewhat outside the scope of your control. What you can do is focus on behaviors that help you achieve that goal, or get close to it, and then reset success around whether you’re completing your behaviors.  As an example:

“I want to complete the P90X workout and diet in 90 days.”

Here, you’re focused on generally accepted notions on behaviors that will get you close to your goal.  Why? Because you control your behaviors, but you can’t really control the outcomes. Reward yourself when you follow through on your behavior goals, and the day-to-day commitments you make.  If you find that compliance is good, and you’re getting closer to your goal, keep at it.

Read the following if you want to really understand the difference in depth.

6. Set Realistic Expectations – Plan to Fail, and Strategize Recovery

After too many failures, most people give up and fall off the wagon.  You will fail – we all do. Think of a time you’ve failed – what should you have done to get back on your goal and complete it?  Now reflect on the upcoming goal – reflect on the obstacles that will come your way and cause you to fail, and how when you do fail, you’ll get right back on it.

Once you fail, ask yourself, was it because of internal motivation, an external circumstance, a relationship where expectations weren’t made clear, poor estimation of effort – be honest, own what you can do better, and set about attempting to circumvent the obstacle and try again.

7. Assess Your Progress at Realistic Intervals

Once you’re tracking behaviors, simply mark down in an app or tracker that you completed the behavior.  Once you see you’re consistent in your behaviors over the long-term, you’ll have the ability to meaingfully review your plan and assess goal progress.

This is important because as you attempt to perform the work necessary to accomplish the goal, you’ll find that your initial assessments for completion could be wrong. Maybe you need more time, maybe you need a different time. Maybe you need a different process for accomplishing your goals. Assess your success at both weekly and monthly intervals, and ask yourself:

  • How often was I able to fulfill accomplish my required behaviors?  How often did I miss?
  • What was the reason for those misses?
  • Can I improve what I’m doing incrementally and change those failures to successes?  Or is the whole thing wrong and not working?

Don’t make changes when motivation dies after a few days.  Don’t make big changes on a weekly basis. Set an appointment on a weekly basis simply to review successes and challenges, making small tweaks while maintaining the overall plan. Set a monthly appointment with yourself to review and decide what you’ll change, if anything, in how you operate.

Be something of a Tiger mom about it – aim for 90% completion of behaviors, or an A grade, when assessing whether you’ve done well or not.  Anything below 90% is a failing grade.

(ok, so Tiger Moms want 100% or more, but let’s assume this is a somewhat forgiving Tiger Mom)

Putting it All Together

Set ‘Em Up

  • First, take a moment to reflect and be thankful to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) for what you’ve achieved, and reflect on what it is you’ve accomplished and what you’ve done in the way you worked and operated that helped you succeed.
  • Next, pick one goal and one goal alone to achieve, and use the SMART goal methodology to be clear about what it is.
  • Once this is done, make du’a with strong specificity on a regular basis during all times, and especially during the times when du’as are most likely to be accepted.

Knock ‘Em Down

  • Schedule your goal into a calendar, making sure you clear the time with any individuals who will be impacted by your changed routines and habits.
  • On a daily basis, focus on completing behaviors, not the outcomes you’re aiming for – the behaviors get you to the outcomes.
  • Plan on failing occasionally, especially a week after motivation disappears, and plan for how you’ll bounce back immediately and recover from it.
  • Finally, on a daily and weekly basis, assess yourself to see if you’re keeping on track with your behaviors and make adjustments to do better. On a monthly basis, assess how much closer you are to your goal, and if you’re making good progress, or if you’re not making good progress, and try to understand why and what adjustments you’ll make.

What goals do you plan to achieve in the coming year?

The post 7 Powerful Techniques For Keeping New Year’s Resolutions appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

I Encountered A Predator On Instagram

Muslim Matters - 29 December, 2019 - 23:31

It was a Wednesday night in April and as I was getting ready to go to bed, a direct message popped up in my Instagram inbox. A little background; my personal  account on Instagram is private and it is rare that I let anyone, whom I do not know, follow me. But seeing that this was a grown “woman” with a baby and I had at least seven mutual friends, I let her follow me. 

I will say, I was definitely in the wrong to respond to someone I didn’t personally know. Somehow I thought her 105K followers gave her credibility. 

I was gravely mistaken. 

I opened the direct message. 

She had sent me a message complimenting me. This wasn’t new to me because I often get messages with compliments about my appearance from friends — we are teenagers. However, the stark difference was that I didn’t know this person at all. (I came to learn that these types of messages can go under the category of grooming). After complimenting me, she asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company. 

Many young women are targeted by predators on Instagram. Here is my story. 'After complimenting me, 'she' asked whether I had ever considered modeling for a hijab and abaya company.'Click To Tweet

I replied, saying that if I had more details I’d consult with my parents and give her an answer the next morning; to which she responded demanding she must have an answer the same night as she had other offers to make. 

I then went to ask my mother. Mama was sick with the flu, quite woozy, but despite her state she said,

“this sounds like a scam to me…”.



I decided to play along with it and test her. 

I told @samahnation to tell me more and how I could verify her and her company. She then sent me numerous copied and pasted answers —hecka long— about how I could trust her; how the company would pay me and how they will still make money in the meantime. 

hijab modeling scam

Thankfully, I was apprehensive during the entire ordeal, but as you can see, this type of manipulation is so real and possible for young women and girls to fall prey. This experience was honestly quite scary and jarring for me. I was so easily distracted by what she was portraying herself as on her profile. She had a GoFundMe for a masjid in her bio and posts of photos depicting her love for her baby.
predator

I began to do some research. I stumbled upon an article about a ‘Hijab House’ model scam. Using the title of ‘consultant director’ for a well-known hijab company, Hijab House, predators were allegedly preying on young girls in Australia. Hijab House has denied any link to this scam. 

Hijab House model scam

 

The predator went as far as to blackmail and pressure their victims into sending nude photos, or doing crazy things like smelling shoes! Eerily enough, @samahnation’s Instagram bio stated that she was based in Melbourne, Australia.


The more I engaged with this predator, the more ludicrous their responses and questions got. And this happened within the span of 24 hours. 

She went as far as to ask me if I would answer questions for a survey, saying all that mattered was honesty and that the purpose of the survey was to make me uncomfortable to see if I “won’t fall under pressure.”

Clearly, this last statement about being a speech analysis specialist was a complete fabrication. Again, may I reiterate that even older people can fall prey. You don’t have to be young and impressionable, these manipulative perpetrators will do anything to get what they want.



As shown below, the situation reached an obscene level of ridiculousness. You can see clear attempts to gaslight me and pressure me into answering or changing my stance on my replies.


This was the last thing I said to the predator before I blocked and reported them in an attempt to get them caught. Observe how as soon as I called this person out they immediately became defensive and tried to manipulate me into thinking that what they were doing and asking me was completely normal- that I was the crazy one for asking for proof. 

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of the iceberg. They had asked me questions I found too lewd to even answer or take screenshots of.

This bizarre encounter was honestly astonishing. I do not even know if I was talking to a man or a woman.

Alhamdullilah, I am so glad because even if I was a little bit gullible, I was aware enough about predatory behavior that I didn’t fall victim to this perpetrator. I am especially grateful for my mother, who has educated me about predators like this from a very young age; whom even in her drowsy state was able to tell me it was a preposterous scam.

I could have been blackmailed.

Talk to your parents or a trusted adult

I am grateful for having an open channel of communication, that my relationship with my mother is based on trust and I could go to her when this occurred. This is a reminder and a learning opportunity for all of us how these scary things can happen to anyone. We must learn how to take caution and protect ourselves and our (underage) loved ones against such situations.

Sis, please talk to your parents. They love you and will be your first line of defense.

Grooming

Grooming is a very common tactic online predators use to gain the trust of their victim. According to InternetSafety101, young people put themselves at great risk by communicating online with individuals they do not know on a personal level. “Internet predators intentionally access sites that children commonly visit and can even search for potential victims by location or interest.

If a predator is already communicating with a child, he or she can piece together clues from what the child mentions while online, including parents’ names, where the child goes to school, and how far away the child lives from a certain landmark, store, or other location.
Online grooming is a process which can take place in a short time or over an extended period of time. Initial conversations online can appear innocent, but often involve some level of deception. As the predator (usually an adult) attempts to establish a relationship to gain a child’s trust, he may initially lie about his age or may never reveal his real age to the child, even after forming an established online relationship. Often, the groomer will know popular music artists, clothing trends, sports team information, or another activity or hobby the child may be interested in, and will try to relate it to the child.”

These tactics lead children and teens to believe that no one else can understand them or their situation like the groomer. After the child’s trust develops, the groomer may use sexually explicit conversations to test boundaries and exploit a child’s natural curiosity about sex. Predators often use pornography and child pornography to lower a child’s inhibitions and use their adult status to influence and control a child’s behavior.

They also flatter and compliment the child excessively and manipulate a child’s trust by relating to emotions and insecurities and affirming the child’s feelings and choices.

Predators will:

* Prey on teen’s desire for romance, adventure, and sexual information.
* Develop trust and secrecy: manipulate child by listening to and sympathizing with child’s problems and insecurities.
* Affirm feelings and choices of child.
* Exploit natural sexual curiosities of child.
* Ease inhibitions by gradually introducing sex into conversations or exposing them to pornography.
* Flatter and compliment the child excessively, send gifts, and invest time, money, and energy to groom the child.
* Develop an online relationship that is romantic, controlling, and upon which the child becomes dependent.
* Drive a wedge between the child and his/her parents and friends.
* Make promises of an exciting, stress-free life, tailored to the youth’s desire.
* Make threats, and often will use child pornography featuring their victims to blackmail them into silence.”

Gaslighting 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? 

According to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. “Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed. For example, in the movie Gaslight (1944), a man manipulates his wife to the point where she thinks she is losing her mind,” writes Dr Stephanie Sarkis. 

Another interesting observation I made is the clear gaslighting this pedophile was trying to perpetuate throughout my conversation with them. You may ask what is gas lighting? Click To Tweet

Recognizing signs that you may be a victim of gaslighting:

Second guessing. Are you constantly second guessing yourself when talking to this person or questioning your own morals that you wouldn’t have thought twice about otherwise? For example, when this person popped up in my inbox I wouldn’t have thought twice about blocking or just deleting the message if it was a man but, since it seemed to be a woman I was duped into thinking that it was more acceptable or I could trust them more.

Feeling as if you are being too sensitive. Again I cannot emphasize this enough that you must trust your instincts, if you are feeling uncomfortable and your internal alarm bells are ringing- listen to them! Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting or manipulation. 

Feeling constantly confused. Another sign that you may be falling victim to gas lighting is when you are constantly confused and second guessing your thoughts and opinions.

Three takeaways:

1. Trust your instincts (I’m going to reiterate this, always trust your gut feeling, if you feel like you are uncomfortable whether it’s a situation you are in or if you don’t have a good feeling while talking to a certain person I advise you exit the chat or don’t answer in the first place.)
2. Never answer to someone whom you don’t know. I will say this was my first and biggest mistake that I have made: allowing this person’s messages into my inbox, and replying to their ridiculous claims and questions. Now that I think about it I don’t even know if this was a woman or not.
3. Set your boundaries! This is probably the most important tip to take away from this article. Setting up your boundaries from the beginning is so important. Whether it is a friend, partner or colleague, if you do not set your boundaries from the beginning of your interaction or relationship with that person; people will not respect your limits and choices later on. Especially if your boundaries have to do with religion, moral compasses, or even specific pet peeves you have. I cannot emphasize how much boundaries matter when it comes to any daily interaction you may have in your daily life.

The post I Encountered A Predator On Instagram appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

National parks should be inclusive; that does not mean destruction

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 December, 2019 - 19:00
A view from near the summit of a mountain down a valley to a small lake. At the bottom of the valley is a small area of green fields; a small stream runs down the valley to the lake.Wast Water, from Great Gable, in the English Lake District.

Sky News today reported that the chief executive of the Lake District National Park Authority had claimed that the park was geared too much towards the needs of older, able-bodied, white tourists and was not inclusive enough of disabled people and ethnic minorities. This has obviously led to the usual outcry from ‘conservationists’, Nimbys and reactionaries who have accused him of seeking to dumb down the park, among them the deputy mayor of Keswick (an important service town in the northern part of the park) who has condemned the construction of a tarmac path near Keswick and said that if people do not like the environment as it is, muddy paths and all, they should go elsewhere. The article quotes a report (PDF) by the government’s rural affairs department DEFRA which says that the National Parks are in danger of becoming “an exclusive, mainly white, mainly middle‑class club, with rules only members understand and much too little done to encourage first time visitors”.

There are 12 National Parks in the UK (two in Scotland, three in Wales and the rest in England) and all are large rural areas of particular natural beauty or geological spectacle. They are not parks in the sense that an urban municipal park is, but are working landscapes where tourism is encouraged, including by facilitating access to uncultivated land, and unsympathetic development discouraged or banned altogether. Until quite recently all of the English parks were in the north or south-west; three were added in the south and East Anglia this century (the South Downs, New Forest and Broads). There are other levels of protection for nature and landscapes such as the Green Belt system, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) but the national parks are the best known and probably best funded system and the most geared towards the needs of visitors. They originated after the Second World War and were intended to ensure that there were areas where city dwellers could escape to unspoiled, unpolluted areas, enjoy places of natural beauty and benefit from clean air; their establishment was the result of a popular movement which included protests against people being shut out of uncultivated land by landowners who were using them as grouse moors and the like, one of which was celebrated in the song The Manchester Rambler by Ewan MacColl.

In the comments to the Sky News piece and the tweets in response to it, people have reacted with a mean-spirited parody of what the chief executive was saying, with one reply suggesting that a dual carriageway be built up Scafell Pike and a MacDonald’s be built at the summit, and numerous other suggestions that hills be levelled because they’re ‘exclusionary’ to disabled people. While the majority of people can cope with a muddy path, a paved path away from the road allows a wheelchair user or other disabled person to enjoy the landscape as short of carrying them on a stretcher, there is no way many disabled people could enjoy walking in the hills when the paths are steep, muddy and punctuated by walls and fences that have to be crossed by stiles. Climbing hills and abseiling down cliff faces are all very well if you can, but if you are not physically able to, you should not be shut out of the country’s premier outdoor holiday destinations. When the national parks were established, many disabled and long-term sick people were still living in institutions which were in the country for a reason — because clean air was healthier and might aid their recovery or prevent deterioration. Of course, you didn’t get to appreciate the landscape much if you were shut behind walls, but the principle was understood when these places were first built. (The “£8m tarmac trail” that is the focus of the deputy mayor’s complaint is actually along an old railway line, like many long-distance walks and cycle routes the country over, and the project is to restore it after sections of it were destroyed by floods in a major storm in 2015.)

Cities are nowadays less polluted than they used to be, although traffic fumes have eroded some of the benefits brought by cleaner fuels and reduced “smoke stack” manufacturing, but access to nature and natural beauty is still good for the spirit and access to rugged landscapes where one can climb, abseil and do other activities that build up physical strength and survival skills is good for one’s general health. I spent many holidays as a child and much time as a student exploring and appreciating some of Britain’s national parks — the Lake District and Snowdonia in particular — and I agree that it is important that everyone have a way of enjoying it, not just the physically most able, those with a car and the money to run it, and those who fit into a mostly white, provincial English county. They are called national parks for a reason; they are supported by all of us and we all have a right to enjoy them however we can.

Image source: Doug Sim, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 4.0 licence.

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Was it Corbyn? Was it Brexit?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 December, 2019 - 23:51
BBC Map showing the seats which changed hands during the 2019 election.

So, just over a week ago the Labour Party crashed to one of its worst defeats in its history, gaining only 30% of the vote (down from over 40% in 2017) in a general election which gave Boris Johnson’s Conservatives a majority of more than 80 seats (on the back of about 43% of the popular vote). While it held or gained some unlikely seats in London and the south (Canterbury, Putney), it lost large numbers of seats in what used to be its northern heartlands including, for example, much of outer Tyneside, Bolsover (represented for decades by Dennis Skinner), north-east Wales and all of Stoke on Trent, all of which went Tory, often for the first time in decades or ever. Significantly, this election had a very high turnout (usually a good sign for Labour) despite being, unusually, in December when the hours of daylight are short. Within the Labour party, people are generally blaming the loss on Labour’s decision to back a “People’s Vote” on Brexit while others blame Corbyn’s leadership and the numerous question marks over his past associations (the IRA, various Middle Eastern terrorist groups) and the perception that he was unpatriotic. Others are suggesting that it was really because Corbyn sided with his student and ethnic-minority supporters and neglected his ‘traditional’ (i.e. white) working-class base, often with the implication that the party should really take a sharp turn in the other direction.

I was never happy with Corbyn — he was proposed late in the day during the 2015 post-election leadership campaign and it was always understood that he had never held ministerial office while Labour were in power (indeed, he briefly defected to the Liberal Democrats during the Iraq war) but all of a sudden this was an asset rather than a liability. Labour MPs openly displayed their contempt for him from the beginning and the fact that he was “always a rebel” during the Blair and Brown years was taken to mean they could do the same when he was leader. The reason he was suggested was the uninspiring offers of the three leadership contenders then, one of whom (Andy Burnham) I called on this blog a “shop-minder”, i.e. a would-be Labour PM who treats 10 Downing Street as a Tory property in which he is a guest, just minding the shop for them. While still running for leadership, he made a speech at Ernst & Young in London praising financiers as “wealth creators” and lecturing against the “politics of envy”, Tory talking-points of the time. So, somebody was needed who could change the record but it should never have been Corbyn.

As someone on the fringes of the Left, having been involved in the anti-cuts and disability rights movement since 2010, the cult-like mentality of the Corbynistas was very, very noticeable. He could do no wrong for them. Often these were long-standing Labour activists who saw him, somehow, as a “great hope” despite evidence. But they acted as if, if you talked about victory enough, it would come. They presented trivial advances, such as Labour wins in civil parish council by-elections, as great victories and actual losses as wins. While the party was still clinging to the “respect the referendum” policy in late 2018, I saw people who had voted for Remain come out with the line that the advantages to ordinary people of being in the EU benefited only the middle class while real working-class people were crying out for jobs. (If we were to properly fund the education system rather than just the bare minimum, we could fund school exchanges and decent language tuition; British people are among the worst in Europe for learning other languages, and British school language tuition is some of the worst in Europe. It’s an ignorant attitude typical of the British mentality towards Europe.) It’s no wonder that when Labour lost the election, Labour Brexiteers rushed to blame it on the shift towards a People’s Vote, even though many people who canvassed door-to-door in the North say that in the houses they visited, people gave numerous reasons for turning away from Labour, more of them to do with Corbyn’s leadership. It rather reflects the usual far-left reaction to defeat: to assume that it was not because they were too extreme but because they were not extreme enough. 

It was the right thing to do to back a People’s Vote. Nobody who supported Brexit had anything to fear from it; if it remained the will of the people, it would have gained approval again. The landscape had changed since 2016, more was known about the realities of leaving the EU and the Tories had not come up with a decent withdrawal agreement that would suit any majority. Before the referendum, the most talked-about ‘solution’ was to rejoin EFTA and have a relationship with the EU similar to Norway’s; after, this was dismissed (including by some in the Labour party such as Chuka Umunna) as it would not allow us to refuse free movement, i.e. to close the doors to east European workers. It’s also known that mixed British-European families are being split up or leaving, that NHS workers have been leaving because of uncertainty or because of racist abuse by patients, that companies are declining to invest here, that the situation in Northern Ireland depends on there being no border to speak of for British or Irish citizens, that there is a substantial majority for Remaining in Scotland and that it is fuelling calls for another independence referendum which, if it goes ahead, might win. Twice we have seen signs on motorways warning of “changes to paperwork” for anyone travelling to the EU after a certain date; we are seeing preparations for long queues near to ports in Kent, which would not be needed if we simply remained in the EU. Yet the Tories will not admit, nor tell the people, that they are wrong, nor give the population the right to change their minds, as had many Tories now known as Brexiteers since the early 2010s when some of them said it was ridiculous, madness, folly to leave.

I mostly defended Corbyn on the anti-Semitism issue. Actually, for me this was not about Corbyn so much as about the principle of free speech on the issues surrounding it, including the rights of the Palestinians to live in peace and dignity in their own country and the rights of their supporters to support them. Many (not all, but many) of those targeted were Muslims who were expressing points of view that are common currency in the Muslim community and which do not include any suggestion of violence towards Jews just because they are Jews and some of those expressions were made years before they were in the running to be MPs. There has been a deliberate attempt to weed out and exclude Muslims from public life and it has claimed a number of casualties during this election campaign and indeed during the whole of Corbyn’s leadership and, whatever the criticisms from the Jewish mainstream that the party does not leap when they say ‘jump’, the party has been too timid in defending them. It is atrocious, quite simply, that anti-racist mechanisms and doctrines should be used to defend a foreign country which has nuclear weapons, whose founders and several of whose leaders were terrorists, which has used international terrorism — kidnappings and murders — to eliminate and silence its enemies, which oppresses the non-Jewish native population of the territory it claims, from criticism or condemnation.

Equally sickening was the spectacle of privileged, middle-class white people — some of them working for a newspaper with a history of witch hunts against Muslims, including the notorious foster care story from 2017, and some sharing their stories on a regular basis — affecting the air of a persecuted minority, complaining that Corbyn did not show them empathy, accusing Corbyn of ‘gaslighting’ them by not accepting their claims at face value. We hear continual reminders of their past persecutions and how strongly British Jews remember them despite the fact that none of them were in this country, not under governments of left nor right. Jews are not an oppressed minority in this country and should not be treated as one; they are well-represented in the political classes and in the media (in both of which they also have a lot of powerful friends), are not visible by skin colour and are not recent arrivals whose right to live here is in question at all.

It’s ironic also that people are criticising the Labour party for concentrating too much on middle-class voters and too little on the ‘traditional’ working class, while others criticise it for ignoring or belittling ‘conservative’, nativist sentiment among that working class. Most of the examples of ‘anti-Semitism’ which gave rise to the scandal would not have struck most people as racist; they were classed as such according to an ideological interpretation of racism, and lost the party votes because they caused dissension and division in the parliamentary party. I cannot imagine that most of working-class Britain would be greatly exercised about most of these particular incidents, certainly not to the extent that (we hope!) they would be about a politician or party that advocated racial violence or explicitly discriminatory policies or used “go home” rhetoric — bothered enough by them not to vote them into power. But, of course, we know that not to be the case. This was a dogma that was bought hook, line and sinker by the Labour Right and their sympathetic media, long enough to use it against Corbyn.

This election and the government it puts into power will be a chapter in the downfall of modern democracy. Like so many British governments of recent history, they have a false majority: some 43% of the vote which translates into more than half of the seats, yet is treated as an absolute mandate just because it gives them unfettered power. The matter of Brexit is now deemed to be ‘settled’ (I saw a Tory MP lecture Jeremy Corbyn about this in Parliament this morning, reminding him that he is supposed to be a democrat), yet the Tories and Brexit Party between them received only 45.6% of the vote while Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Greens — all committed to remaining in or holding a further referendum — received 47.1%. The population is as divided as ever; only the make-up of Parliament has changed. Of course, the Labour Right has only itself to blame: they were in power themselves for 13 years, yet opposed electoral reform all the way. Winners don’t change the rules, after all.

As for who should succeed Corbyn: obviously it has to be a unifying figure, not someone implacably wedded to Corbyn’s vision but neither a throwback to the Blairite past. Blair’s time was 20 years ago, things have changed and nobody entitled to vote for the first time in the most recent election was born when Blair came to power (they were only seven years old when he left office — if there is no election until 2024, they will have been two). His mistakes are a large part of the reason for the mess we are in now. While they will not be in a position to stall Brexit, they need to be open to the possibility of rejoining if that is in Britain’s national interest (especially if Brexit is a disaster); they should be committed to as close a relationship as possible and to maintaining the rights of cross-border families. They should also have a plan to regenerate the areas neglected by Thatcher-Blairism with real industry, not handouts, infrastructure projects (which, by nature, do not last) and service-sector jobs. They must not capitulate to any demands to pursue nativism or anti-intellectualism as a means of ‘reconnecting’ with people who get their ideas from tabloids; Labour cannot win elections without a broad appeal and this includes to the young, well-educated and ethnic minorities. If Labour goes down that road, all Boris Johnson has to do to win a sizeable chunk of the ethnic vote in 2024 is keep a lid on the worst excesses of racism; his term in office has to just not be an obvious disaster, as was the case with his mayoralty (I emphasise obvious). Finally, Labour really has to be committed to electoral reform, as we must never again see a situation where a leader committed to a ruinous policy and with an aversion to the concept of rights is gifted a majority because of the vagaries of the voting system and his main opponent’s shortcomings. 

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Book Review: A Very British Muslim Activist

Inayat's Corner - 15 December, 2019 - 19:58

What an incredible journey Ghayasuddin Siddiqui has been on. Arriving in Sheffield as an impoverished Chemistry PhD student from Pakistan in the early 1960s, he would be heavily involved in the earliest UK student Islamic societies. It would be a natural progression for the young Ghayasuddin who back home had been an activist with the Jamaat-i-Islami, a leading Pakistani Islamic movement. As a teenager in the early 1950s he had made a long cross-country trek from Karachi to a prison in Multan to visit the charismatic founder and leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, Mawlana Mawdudi. However, it is the UK that would become home to Ghayasuddin. Following a meeting with another charismatic figure, Kalim Siddiqui, the two would go on to found the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning in the early 1970s. The Muslim Institute would focus on trying to understand the reasons for the poor state of the Muslim world and would dedicate itself to searching for answers to the predicament of the Muslim ummah. An answer would come in the form of the 1978/79 Islamic revolution in Iran. “Kalim bhai, I think something is happening in Iran,” the book records Ghayasuddin as understatedly saying at the time (p85). In Imam Khomeini’s revolutionary Muslim masses, Kalim and Ghayasuddin would come to see a genuinely home grown movement that was explicitly anti-colonial and fully determined that their country Iran should not be yet another submissive US client state in the oil-rich Middle East. At a time when quite a few Muslim organisations were seeking and being granted funding from the fantastically corrupt Saudi regime (as indeed the Muslim Institute had also done up until then), this would mark a clear break for the Muslim Institute from a number of other UK Muslim organisations. This rivalry between Saudi and Iranian supported Muslim organisations continues right up to the present day of course. Ghayasuddin would be granted an audience with Imam Khomeini in person and when in 1989 the Imam issued his fatwa (legal opinion) regarding the Satanic Verses affair, Kalim Siddiqui – as Director of the Muslim Institute and the UK’s foremost supporter of the fatwa would get huge publicity and become a household name in UK Muslim communities. Dr Kalim was a clever strategist and saw that the energies unleashed during the many marches and demonstrations against Salman Rushdie’s book could perhaps be utilised for a more constructive purpose: that of helping UK Muslims become better organised and empowered. In 1990, the Muslim Institute published the Muslim Manifesto, a document that called for the formation of a Muslim Parliament in the UK. It was during this time that I – a student at the time – first came to meet Dr Kalim Siddiqui and Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (no relation). I was impressed by how the two Siddiquis refused to be intimidated by the UK establishment and were prepared to speak out at what was clearly unfair treatment by the then Conservative government. It was only anti-Muslim bigotry surely that allowed the government to fund over twenty Jewish schools for the much smaller Jewish community, yet refuse to fund a single Muslim school. We should not forget that the Tories would make repeated excuses for refusing to fund Muslim schools and this would only change in 1997 following the election of the Labour party into power. The early 1990s would see the break up of formerly communist Yugoslavia into a number of independent republics, but when the Bosnians declared independence, they were immediately attacked by Serbian and Croat forces. The Muslim Bosniaks were being slaughtered by their own former countrymen that had Serb and Croat heritage. Today’s generation should be reminded in schools that the last genocide that occurred in Europe was not that of the Jews over 70 years ago at the hands of the Nazis, but of Muslims in Srebrenica less than twenty five years ago. And outrageously, the main European powers had imposed an arms embargo on Bosnia, so while the Serbs and Croats would continue to be armed by their neighbouring republics of Serbia and Croatia, the democratically elected government of Bosnia could not legally purchase arms to defend its beleaguered and surrounded population. To many British Muslims, it appeared that the European Christian powers were more than happy to turn a blind eye to the eradication of a Muslim population and culture in Europe. So much for “Never again.” To this day it grates to recall the pompous and superior tones with which the then UK Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd would justify the enforcing of the arms embargo. The book, I think correctly, identifies the tragedy in Bosnia (and later in Chechnya) as signifying the beginning of the radicalisation of some UK Muslim youth. The Muslim Parliament would defy the Tory government and openly raise funds throughout the UK for the jihad in Bosnia to defend its Muslim population. In 1996, Dr Kalim Siddiqui would pass away and the leadership of the Muslim Parliament and the Muslim Institute would be invested in Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui. Within a year I had become aware of  serious trouble at these bodies when I received an odd letter at home. It said – from memory – that Dr Ghayasuddin had betrayed the ideals of the Islamic revolution in Iran and it was forbidden to send funds (sahm-i-Imam) to him and the organisations he headed. Sahm-i-Imam is a Shi’a term and I am not a Shi’a so I did at the time wonder why I was sent that letter. Anyway, some familiar figures from the Muslim Parliament that I had known for several years soon left and distanced themselves from Dr Ghayasuddin. The book does not name names and only says “Several members were revealed to have been under the bankroll of the Iranian government and were rapidly relieved of their positions,” (p180). This biography is not a warts and all story. You have to join the dots yourself. Since 1996, Dr Ghayasuddin appears to have become rather less enamoured with the Islamic revolution in Iran and has changed a number of his views. He would later even go on to join the board of the British Muslims for Secular Democracy. That is something I cannot imagine the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui ever doing. He would also become a committed champion of the rights of Muslim women and would campaign to ensure that those who married under the Islamic Nikah ritual in the UK were properly protected by law. The book describes him as a Muslim feminist. After challenging the behaviour of the UK government Dr Ghayasuddin also began to challenge the unjust behaviour of many within the UK Muslim community.  It is a fascinating and courageous transformation and yet this book does not explore the reasoning behind the dramatic changes in so many of his former views from being a committed advocate of Islamic revolutions to becoming a secular democrat. I think that is an opportunity missed as I think Dr Ghayasuddin has plenty of valuable life lessons to pass on to today’s newer generation of UK Muslims. Today, the UK government continues to treat Muslims disdainfully. We have a Prime Minister who openly mocks the religious attire of some Muslim women as resembling “letterboxes”. Propagating Islamophobia day in and day out is a staple of much of the UK’s media. The UK government does not treat all forms of xenophobia as equally abhorrent. In particular, its funding of the Jewish Community Security Trust (£13.4 million a year) dwarfs the funding it provides to challenge bigotry against the much larger UK Muslim community. The UK government enthusiastically supported the US invasion and bombing campaign of Iraq despite the invasion being declared illegal according to international law. Yet the UK government refuses to contemplate any punitive action or sanctions – let alone any serious action – against Israel for its continued illegal occupation and settlement building in Palestine. The campaign to ensure that the UK government acts more justly continues. At the same time it must be admitted that UK Muslims also need to look much more critically at themselves and their own role and actions in the UK. As this book demonstrates, for almost the whole of his adult life Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui actively threw himself into these campaigns and for that he surely deserves to be honoured.

Don’t be fooled about the Tories’ “values”

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 December, 2019 - 23:54
A polling station in a hall at the back of an English church; an old lady is walking through the door. A plastic chair sits in front of a sign saying "polling station".

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when you read this) there is a general election in the UK. We have a prime minister who is a notorious dilettante, a racist, a serial liar and a man whose diplomatic performance has been so miserable that it has led to a British national having an Iranian prison term extended, who proposes himself to negotiate a trade agreement with not only the EU but also the rest of the world following a departure from the EU next month and whose party and its supportive press seems to see no wrong in him. In the past I’ve been hugely critical of Jeremy Corbyn, the main opposition leader, particularly because he was weak on Brexit before the party adopted the policy of supporting a further referendum on Brexit and on any withdrawal deal, and partly because of the cowardice the party as a whole have shown in the face of which hunts against long-standing members, including Muslims, but right now I am supporting tactical voting for the best-placed candidate to deny Boris Johnson a majority in the Commons.

I’ve come across Muslims who put an undue faith in Corbyn and others who say they will not support him no matter what, in some cases because Labour are against Muslims’ values and in others because he and some of his front bench are pro-Assad. In my opinion it would be a huge folly to trust the Tories because of these two issues. Boris Johnson is no friend of the Syrian people or of freedom or democracy anywhere, and if British citizens are in trouble in Syria, he will drop them in it with his loose tongue while Corbyn might use his contacts to help them. Tories and their allies have been talking for years about the importance of ‘stability’ and suggesting that Assad might be the “least worst option”, although this talk has died down a bit since ISIS were largely defeated. We saw how international support for the “Arab Spring” has given way to acceptance of the dictators that took over after the initial flowering, particularly in Egypt.

As for the ‘values’ question: the Tories are a majoritarian party whose power base is the white suburban and provincial middle class. Their culture comes from the Tory think-tanks that emerged during Blair’s years in power, such as Policy Exchange, which regard Islam, active Muslims or anything that sets Muslims apart as threats and this appeals to the provincial tabloid reader who does not know any Muslims and anything they ‘know’ about us, they read in the papers or saw it on the news. They don’t give a stuff what you think of homosexuality, gender identity or any issue along those lines. Tories stopped campaigning on “family values” in the 1990s when the sex scandals of the Major years, as well as changing times and values (slurs on single mothers are less of a vote winner when everyone knows at least one), made the slogan a political liability. Nowadays, they lecture about “British values” and every school and childcare facility has to teach children about these mythical values which nobody talks about except politicians.

Twice in recent history, Muslims in a western country have voted for the political Right (in the US with GW Bush and in France with Jacques Chirac) and both times we were knifed in the back once the election was over and we were no longer politically convenient. The same will happen if Boris Johnson wins this election, with or without Muslim support. If Brexit goes wrong, which there is a strong chance that it will, stories involving Muslims will make an easy distraction when people are angry about losing jobs or when food becomes scarce or expensive. On Unherd this week, Mutaz Ahmed advises the Tories to appeal to the older immigrant Labour voter, the African and Caribbean grandmothers, yet these are the voters that bore the brunt of the “hostile environment” policy and best remember the 60s and 70s when a Tory could win an election on the slogan that if people want one of them for a neighbour, they should vote Labour. Generations of socially conservative ethnic minority voters have voted Labour because they knew the Tories wanted to keep Britain white more than they cared about “the family”. Muslims should not forget this, least of all at a time like this.

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Plastic bags are not “single use”

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 November, 2019 - 23:21
A collection of jute and orange plastic bags in two pink plastic crates.

It was reported yesterday (Thursday) that since the tax on plastic bags was introduced under the Coalition government (where, you may recall, the Liberal Democrats got this introduced in return for supporting a Tory benefit cut) plastic use by supermarkets has gone up rather than down and that many of the reusable bags, often branded “bags for life” or similar, are in fact only being used once as were the old thin bags. An environmental group whose spokesman was interviewed on today’s You and Yours programme on Radio 4 called for a 70p charge to be introduced, a similar rate to that charged in the republic of Ireland. They also noted an increase in the sale of ready meals which also invariably come in plastic packaging. I can think of a few explanations for these trends; plastic use may well have increased by even more than is being suggested.

First, carrier bags never were really “single use”. Many people did reuse them for shopping or for carrying personal effects; they also got reused as bin bags, especially in cars and the like, and for the disposal of food-related waste, nappies and other waste that might make an environment smell. They also got used as temporary covers for things (e.g. bicycle saddles when covered with bird poo — or to protect them from the same). People now have to find new ways to dispose of these things, which means buying bin bags from the same supermarket that would previously have given them a branded carrier bag for free. No doubt some of the “bags for life” are also being used as makeshift bins and disposed of before they can be reused for shopping. Since carrier bags got expensive, some of us started using the clear plastic bags they supplied for loose vegetables for some of these purposes but some supermarkets have withdrawn these as well. Sainsbury’s asks customers to buy their special netting bags or just to bring our own, but continues to supply bulk vegetables in plastic packaging. I could, therefore, buy three courgettes in a plastic package and end up throwing two of them away because I don’t get through them that quickly, or just source them elsewhere, but it’s very convenient, profitable and ‘woke’ for Sainsbury’s.

I always doubted that banning carrier bags would greatly reduce plastic consumption or plastic-based pollution. People forget to bring their bags and have to buy new ones; many people were not in the habit of bringing their used bags with them. The latter was a serious environmental problem but much of the plastic in the oceans comes from fishing nets and from plastic beads used in cosmetics that is washed down drains; it was treated as if it followed that because sea life was being choked with discarded plastic, everyone had to stop using plastic everywhere and this principally meant plastic bags and straws. Yet, while shopping can be done with reusable bags made of other materials (jute is a favourite), plastic has other purposes and people will have to continue sourcing plastic, and usually paying for it. The netting bags that Sainsbury’s now expect us to buy for the loose veg is imported from China, which increases the food miles of vegetables grown in Britain or Europe considerably (assuming the plastic bags weren’t imported from there too).

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What “royalty loyalty”?

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 November, 2019 - 17:13
Black and white pictures of a row of tables with many men, women and children of all ages sat at them, with plates and cups and food on the tables. Flags are hung from the red-brick houses which open directly onto the streets.Street party in Wolverton, Buckinghamshire to celebrate Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding, 1981. (Source: Talk About Wolverton.)

In an article posted yesterday on UnHerd, Paul Embery (a self-proclaimed “Blue Labour thinker” and fire-fighter) claims that a recent poll for the site by FocalData on support for the continuation of the monarchy underlines the schism in British society between “our big urban centres, populated by large numbers of students and the liberal cosmopolitan middle-classes with their globalist outlook” on one hand and an alliance of the old industrial working class and the conservative shires on the other: the former, which tended towards Remain in the 2016 referendum, is less supportive of the monarchy while the latter tends to be more so. A brief look at the map generated by the poll, however, shows no evidence of this alliance; quite the opposite in fact, and nor any correlation with the results of the 2016 referendum. (Note: the sample size of the poll is 21,119, which across 632 constituencies in mainland Britain means 33 to 34 people per constituency — judge for yourself how representative that sample could be. The results they published today from the question about gender identity very clearly show artefacts of the small sample.)

The map shows areas with the strongest support for the monarchy in green and the least in pink, and is rather misleading because some of the lighter-pink areas have greater than 50% support for retaining the monarchy. The general areas with the strongest support include south Essex, Lincolnshire, East Yorkshire, parts of Kent and Sussex, most of Hampshire and Dorset, and the outer suburbs and outlying towns of the West Midlands. The areas with least support are most of Scotland (almost no constituency polls 50% or more support), west and south Wales, plus all of the major and minor cities (by that I mean cities with six-figure populations, not small towns with cathedrals) and university towns (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, Brighton). While much of the prosperous south shows in deep green, other areas show more tepid support (e.g. Henley, Banbury) as well as the south-west of England. As with the prosperous south, the industrial and ex-industrial north and north Midlands are divided; much of northern Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire polls well above 55% in favour, but areas around Newcastle poll slightly above or below 50%. Those figures from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, however, are still well below the figures recorded in the south-east and Lincolnshire, which are often well above 60%, so this hardly indicates an ‘alliance’ of the shires and working class.

While the top and bottom constituencies in the table mostly coincide with Leave and Remain votes in 2016, in other areas the correlation breaks down. Coventry, Nottingham, Sheffield and Peterborough, for example, all of which voted to leave in 2016, show in deep pink on the map, all of which had a below 50% showing for support. Remain-voting Witney and Newbury both poll well over 50% in favour; Remain-voting Maidenhead and Beaconsfield both show over 60%. In Scotland only one constituency (Banff and Buchan, north of Aberdeen) has greater than 50% for retention; even in most of the border regions where there has been the strongest Tory resurgence, support is at most 50% and mostly lower. While both Birmingham and Wolverhampton voted to leave in 2016, Birmingham shows in this poll as mostly anti-monarchist while Wolverhampton and the Black Country are mostly in favour.

As might be expected, the areas with the biggest show of support for the monarchy are the areas which are provincial, prosperous, mostly white or all three. The areas of England with the weakest tend to be urban areas, particularly those with large minority-ethnic populations, and university towns. The colours on the map are somewhat misleading, because many constituencies with very different shades of green show similar approval rates but different (although only slightly different) disapproval rates but are still, say, 60% in favour of the monarchy, while some of the areas shown as light pink are in fact more than 50% in favour. What the map appears to show is in fact that most of England, with the exception of inner-city London and most of the other major cities, continues to support the retention of the monarchy — nowhere is the ‘disagree’ rate higher than 36% — but in fact there is no answer to this question that allows the person polled to state that they support the monarchy’s dissolution; it only asks whether they are “a strong supporter of the continued reign of the Royal Family”. Those who answered negatively are not necessarily supporters of republicanism; they may simply see no reason to change it now, or find no existing system of republican government satisfactory. The poll does not ask why people do or do not favour the retention of the monarchy, or what (or whom) they do or do not like about it. Support for remaining a monarchy does not equate to loyalty as such.

In short it’s an attempt to reinforce stereotypes of a patriotic, provincial, white heartland that supports the monarchy regardless of class versus a rootless, cosmopolitan, educated metropolitan elite and diverse inner-city that does not. The actual data (for what the data is worth) does not bear this out; far from demonstrating that “we have tipped into a very real cultural war, with competing values and priorities vying for ascendancy”, it shows general support for the monarchy across England and little for change with a few isolated pockets of dissent, with the strongest support in prosperous non-urban areas. There is actually nothing inherently patriotic or British about supporting the monarchy anyway, given that the family has its roots in two German royal families, that many countries in Europe remain monarchies, and that many countries more openly patriotic than the UK are republics. Supporting a republic does not mean being anti-British.

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On obscene generalisations

Indigo Jo Blogs - 20 November, 2019 - 19:57
Five young Black women wearing different coloured long dresses and headscarves.

Last week a video circulated of a Canadian-based Somali imam making some ugly generalisations about African-American people, claiming that most of them were products of one-night stands and did not know who their fathers were, and that he had met a man who said that Islam limited him to four wives instead of the twenty women he had previously kept on the go. After much outcry it appears the imam apologised although some were not satisfied with the wording of his apology, and another imam then circulated a sermon making equally obscene generalisations about Somali women. What was depressing about this was that I saw some Black American Muslims defending the first imam on the grounds that there is indeed a very large illegitimacy rate among African-Americans and that at worst he was exaggerating a bit. I don’t believe this is a good reason to make statements like this in a khutba.

One of the people defending the original shaikh is a student of Shaikh Nuh Keller, the translator and compiler of the English version of the Reliance of the Traveller and a Sufi shaikh who lives and teaches in Jordan, so I am going to quote a couple of extracts from his tariqa literature to explain why what the Somali imam said was not becoming of an imam. That shaikh seems to be a ‘salafi’, judging by the list of his shaikhs, but these things are matters of Shari’ah and not the Sufi path as such. Part of the path as he teaches it is an exercise called muraqaba or vigilance in which the student is expected to refrain from seven sins, all of them sins of the tongue such as lying, tale-bearing, backbiting, boasting, showing-off and, the one relevant to this incident, conversing about the immoral which the shaikh observed was “a hobby among religious people” which they do to “make themselves feel more religious”:

They tell what the fornicators do in such-and-such a street, or what the drinkers are doing up town in such-and-such a bar, and all of this is completely haraam. Mentioning an act of disobedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is an act of disobedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.

He explained that sometimes it was necessary to warn people of evil, such as telling travellers to and students in Syria (before the civil war) what the Assad regime did to anyone who got on the wrong side of it, but there was no excuse to talk about “how bad the times we are living in are” because everyone knows that already. This part of the sermon falls straight into that definition. (The quote is from his 1998 Virginia lectures, which can be downloaded here and the relevant section can be found by searching for “seven things we need to avoid”.)

A second thing he warned against (in a book for people coming to study with him in Jordan) was making generalisations about people based on their national origins. This is also something I have seen Muslims do a lot over the years, often imagining themselves fully justified in their prejudices and in expressing them openly:

One cannot put oneself up by putting others down, but only by worshipping Allah, and it is absolutely haram to make derogatory ethnic observations about individuals or countries. To say, “Iraqis act like such and such,” or “Egyptians have such and such an attitude” or “Pakistanis do such and such” or “Women from Upper Volta” or “Moroccan children” or whoever it may be, unless warning someone actually travelling somewhere of something that may harm him, is of the antics of the nafs, an attempt to feel superior by telling about faults one does not have.

It doesn’t matter in the slightest if one thinks it is true. It is forbidden by Allah Himself in the Qur’an with the words, “O you who believe: let no group of men mock another: for they might well be better than they are. And let no group of women mock another, for they might well be better than they are” (Qur’an 49:11). And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) told his Companions: “Allah Mighty and Majestic has rid you of the arrogance of the Period of Ignorance and its pride in forefathers. Godfearing believer or hapless sinner: all people are the sons of Adam, and Adam was from the soil. Let peoples cease priding themselves in men, or they will matter less to Allah than the scarab beetle that pushes excrement about with its nose” (Ahmad , 2.361. h). This suffices as to how much merit the practice has. If tempted, one should just put one’s lips together and keep them that way. (As A Rule, Wakeel Books, Amman, 2002.)

Any Muslim public speaker should be trying to warm people’s hearts when they speak. They should never assume, regardless of appearances, that they are only addressing Muslims or only addressing their own people, least of all if they know their words are being recorded. We know that the Prophet, sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used wise and kind words and had excellent manners with everyone, Muslims or otherwise. He forbade the Sahaba from, for example, addressing non-Muslims as kaafir, ordering us to call people by their names and their father’s names, as was the Arab custom. He told people not to insult Abu Jahl in front of Ikrimah, radhi Allahu ‘anhu, when he came to Islam after the conquest of Makkah; he prayed for the guidance of the Daws tribe when Abu Hurayrah, radhi Allahu ‘anhu, complained that they were impervious to his attempts to persuade them to become Muslims. Crucially, he condemned those who cursed their own parents, which he explained as meaning cursing someone else’s, leading to the other person responding in kind. In the Qur’an, Allah Almighty tells us not to curse others’ idols, lest they revile Allah in their ignorance. There are so many injunctions and examples of the importance of kindness and good manners in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and going to a foreign country and insulting the people will never win anybody over.

It’s true that there is a high illegitimacy rate among Black Americans; there is a high rate also among White Americans, White British people and many other groups in the West. The rate may be higher or lower but it is still high. It is a fact that many couples live together and have children before marriage, or in some cases never marry. This is not a one-night stand and a child born in this situation knows who their father is. As far as illegitimacy goes, the pendulum has swung a long way from a point where a woman pregnant before marriage would have to spend months in a “mother and baby home” away from her family and give her baby up for adoption or even be consigned to an institution for life to a point where nobody really talks of illegitimacy anymore. I am not saying this is a good thing (though the closure of those institutions definitely is), but it does not justify any claim that “they’re all at it like rabbits” or some other suggestion that everyone is promiscuous, because that just is not true.

As a western convert myself, I am well aware that there are stereotypes among Muslims from both Muslim countries and places like India about westerners and many of us have encountered them when we approach ‘ethnic’ Muslim families about marriage. There is an assumption that nobody from a western background is a virgin by the time their teens are out and if they are, it’s not for want of trying, which is truer than it used to be but still an exaggeration. It’s also not the sort of thing any imam should be telling his congregation, least of all in great detail in a khutba, and they should not imagine that it will hurt or offend less if you think you are only talking about non-Muslims — you may well be talking about their family and saying things you would not dare say about someone’s mother or sister to their face.

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It’s not all about Brexit

Indigo Jo Blogs - 17 November, 2019 - 22:43
A Labour party logo showing a red rose with a green stalk and leaves.

Last Friday the Guardian printed a letter from a number of famous people who informed us that because of ‘concerns’ about anti-Semitism, they would be ‘unable’ to vote Labour in the forthcoming (12th December) election. These ‘dignitaries’ or ‘luminaries’ include the novelists Fay Weldon, Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carré, actress (and family friend of Boris Johnson) Joanna Lumley, Blair-appointed equalities chief and the right-wing media’s favourite model minoritarian Trevor Phillips, and everyone’s but the Muslims’ favourite Muslims, Ed Husain, Fiyaz Mughal and Maajid Nawaz. Many of them are Tories or Liberal Democrats of long standing that it would have been difficult to imagine voting Labour, regardless of who leads it. According to them, we are all under pressure to disregard this matter in the name of stopping Brexit:

We listen to our Jewish friends and see how their pain has been relegated as an issue, pushed aside by arguments about Britain’s European future. For those who insist that Labour is the only alternative to Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, now, it seems, is not the time for Jewish anxiety.

But antisemitism is central to a wider debate about the kind of country we want to be. To ignore it because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government. Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?

Sadly, I live in an area where the nearest thing to an opposition to the Tories is a Liberal Democrat and that’s who I will be voting for next month. To do otherwise would split the anti-Tory and anti-Brexit vote. However, I urge anyone who lives in an area where there is a Labour candidate who can win to vote for them. Much as Brexit will have a devastating effect on the economy which could easily lead to serious unrest, the reasons have to do with so much more than Brexit: they are to do with ending the culture of austerity with its harassment of disabled people and destruction of public services, the run-down of the health system (to say nothing of the threat of its privatisation) and education system, the racist culture of disbelief in the immigration system and so much more besides. All this seems to have been forgotten because the public discourse has been dominated by Brexit and the internal wrangling of political parties including the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party (and any attempt to discuss any other issue of racism is dismissed as whataboutery).

In answer to the question, “which other community’s concerns are disposable in the way?”, unlike these concerns and fears which have been front page news practically every week for the past several years now, every other marginalised and vulnerable group of people’s concerns are deemed disposable by the present government and much of the press and broadcast media. People have died because the supports they would have depended on to get back on their feet have been kicked away in the name of deficit reduction. People live in fear of the “brown envelope” which tells them that their disability benefits are due for reassessment, which likely means an encounter with someone prejudiced against them who will lie about their condition and abilities. A disabled friend of mine wrote on Twitter yesterday:

I’m scared that once the protection of being a parent is over in 5 yrs when my boys all reach adulthood, I will be homeless. As a disabled person, the line between life and death for me lies in the hands of Tory bureaucrats who hate welfare. To say the election is about Brexit is yet another sign that people aren’t seeing our pain, suffering, fear and deaths.

Jeremy Corbyn’s record as an MP does not justify any suggestion that he would harass or discriminate against Jews if he was prime minister; on the contrary, he has been supportive of his Jewish constituents as an MP and Geoffrey Alderman, writing on the Spectator website earlier this year, said that despite the fact that Corbyn had acted unwisely on occasions, he could fill an entire article with the philo-Semitic Early Day Motions (EDMs) Corbyn has supported while an MP, including one to facilitate the settlement of Jews from Yemen in the UK. He also noted that Corbyn had supported Jewish objections to relocating Jewish graves to make way for property development while the council, led by Margaret Hodge, had approved the planning application. Meanwhile, in the huge volume of ‘incidents’ and accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (the volume is being treated as evidence in itself), the signal-to-noise ratio is very low, and of the minority of genuine incidents, many have led to expulsions, including of councillors, MPs and candidates for Parliament. It is not true that the party has “not dealt with it”.

Very many of the signatories to last Friday’s letter are well-known people with long careers in the arts and media who must be fairly wealthy. They will not have been personally affected by the ravages of austerity. I have heard it claimed that many Jews regard a Corbyn government is a worse prospect than a no-deal Brexit; clearly whoever thinks this does not fear for their job or the security of their home. In a letter published today among a set of responses to the letter (printed Monday), it is noted that there are three historians among the signatories and all are privately educated. None of them are Jewish, and they gloss over the fact that many Jews (albeit mostly secular ones) disagree with the calls not to vote Labour; they believe they should dictate whom the public should treat as the voice of “real Jews”. I have heard the group referred to as ‘dignitaries’, but fame does not confer authority. They complain that two Jewish MPs have been “bullied out of the party” but Jewish dissenters have been the victim of bullying and doxing on- and offline and their families have been targeted.

Racism should not be a price worth paying to avoid more serious political outcomes. But that is not the case here; five years of a majority government led by Boris Johnson means five years of austerity, racism, economic decline and isolation for everyone. The alternative is a chance to reverse Brexit and rebuild what the Tories and their coalition partners destroyed. 

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Tu quoque

Indigo Jo Blogs - 14 November, 2019 - 22:53
A cartoon from a Russian magazine showing a Black man hanging from the Statue of Liberty. Two winged figures hold the US flag aloft above it and a book shows a Russian translation of "come unto me, ye that labor and are heavy laden".Image from Soviet magazine Bezbozhnik, 1930

Tu quoque (you too) is a type of argument that is classified as a logical fallacy, that is, an argument that does not offer evidence of the point the arguer is trying to make but rather plays some kind of rhetorical trick, in this case by throwing the accusation back at the accuser by saying he is guilty of the same thing or something morally equivalent. It is sometimes called whataboutery and was a favourite line of argument by the USSR’s propaganda whenever its human rights record was criticised, particularly by the USA’s State Department. A favourite argument of theirs, as illustrated in the picture on the right, was “and you lynch negroes”. I came across an undated article on this fallacy today on the Merriam-Webster dictionary website after a friend shared it on Twitter. I see this fallacy being appealed to a lot in political debate, and the accusations of it are often problematic because they ignore why the argument is being made. Very often, the accusers are just as guilty as the accused, and it matters.

I call this “the bully’s fallacy”. A school or workplace bully will often justify his behaviour by attacking his victim’s character. I remember a conversation I witnessed between a bully at my school and someone he was harassing, in which he accused his victim of, among other things, “polluting the atmosphere” by smoking. His victim responded that many of the bully’s friends also smoked, to which the bully responded, “but we’re not talking about them; we’re talking about you”. He no doubt got this argument from a teacher. It’s true that if you smoke in a confined space, around other people, you risk making them ill, but at my school, some boys smoked round the back of the building and others (the ones who weren’t allowed to smoke) in an isolated spot in the grounds, so nobody who didn’t want to be there was affected. The key thing was that the criticism was not sincere and was not intended to encourage him to change his behaviour; it was intended as harassment. And the intention behind an argument is sometimes important.

Very often in political arguments, one side is accused of some vice of which the other side are just as guilty, or if not, then guilty of something similar. When we hear the present leadership of the Labour party accused of anti-Semitism, for example, a common response is to point out the numerous examples of racism on the Tory benches, where various Tory figures have been suspended and then sometimes reinstated after making openly racist or Islamophobic remarks. On some occasions, Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for statements which condemned both anti-Semitism and other forms of racism, rather than anti-Semitism alone as his critics demand. However, the guilt of the accusing side is relevant, because it is not an academic argument but a contest between two political parties for power, and if one party says to the other “you are racist”, really they are saying to the public “these people are racist; don’t vote for them”. If the accusing side is just as racist, if not more so, the public need to be aware of that.

Arguments with real consequences cannot always be treated as academic debates. When women say to men who try to engage them in debates about abortion, “no womb, no opinion”, they might be accused of an ad hominem argument, another logical fallacy, but it does not matter because the arguments have been had many times before and the consequences of a ban on abortion are very serious, not only for those with unwanted pregnancies but also for those who suffer miscarriages, who would then be liable to be investigated for evidence of abortion as been noted in many Latin American countries. As for the US v Soviet whataboutery, although the observation about lynching was by that time outdated, the US was no friend of freedom for most of the world; it was a notorious exporter of poverty and oppression and supported dictatorships almost everywhere outside Europe. This is no defence of the Soviet record of human rights or political or intellectual freedom, nor of people who reflexively assume anyone who is against the USA must be good, but for anyone outside the USA asked to “pick a side” during that time, it would not have been as simple as it would be for those of us in countries the US favoured.

I don’t believe there is any comparison between the Labour anti-Semitism controversy and the very real problem of racism in the Tory party. Most of the former consists of people’s words being twisted and often the thing that was said was true or at least arguable; the definition of anti-Semitism being deployed is ideological and the definition of a Jew is sectarian, overtly excluding many people of partial Jewish ancestry as well as dissenting and non-religious Jews; very often the accusations are aimed at silencing critics of Israel’s treatment of native Palestinians. The racism displayed in the Tory party, on the other hand, is often firmly aimed at ordinary people who are members of visible minorities who have rarely had the mass media on their side. So, if Jeremy Corbyn is indeed a racist (which I believe he is not), it is no defence of him to call Boris Johnson one, even if he is. But for Johnson and his supporters to make the claim is hypocrisy, and because this is politics and not an academic debate, that matters: a man who points the finger at others rather than address his own failings is not a good leader and a man who demonises minorities in print as a journalist is liable to do the same, when he sees it as necessary, as a political leader.

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As election nears, the witch-hunt steps up

Indigo Jo Blogs - 10 November, 2019 - 22:55
On Piccadilly outside Green Park, London. A picture of a middle-aged white man wearing a blue rimmed hat with a yellow ribbon round it which says "Stop Brexit", and next to him someone is holding up a banner that says "Get your Johnson our of our democracy". Several EU and British flags are on display.An anti-Brexit demonstrator in London, November 2019.

So, the week before last, the date for a forthcoming general election — 12th December — was finally announced and parliament was prorogued (dissolved) for real, after months of wrangling so as to stop Boris Johnson using an election season as an opportunity to crash the country out of the EU without a deal. Since then, a number of MPs on both sides of the House have announced they are standing down, in some cases in response to persistent abuse (e.g. Heidi Allen, a former Tory who defected to the Independents/Change group and then the Lib Dems) but in some a clear attempt to undermine the Labour Party’s chances of winning a parliamentary majority while Jeremy Corbyn remains leader. The Liberal Democrats have secured defections from both main parties and are contesting all seats, aggressively targeting some seats which have pro-Remain Labour MPs (e.g. Emma Dent-Coad in Kensington, who secured a tiny majority in the 2017 election shortly before the Grenfell disaster). I have also seen a ratcheting up of the witch-hunt against Labour candidates, sitting MPs or otherwise, for opinions on Israel that could be deemed, particularly by partisans of Israel, to be antisemitic; one of the candidates involved stood down on Friday.

I was unable to find the blog post by Kate Ramsden, the Unison union official who was standing in the Gordon constituency in Aberdeenshire in Scotland; maybe it has been deleted, or maybe it was not on her blog but on another. However, she was quoted as comparing Israel to an abused child (referring to the Holocaust and perhaps other persecutions Jews suffered in the past) who becomes an abusive adult and the Labour party apparently said she could keep her candidacy if she deleted the post, which it appears she did. The Jewish Chronicle quoted Jonathan Goldstein of the self-appointed “Jewish Leadership Council” as saying that this was “evidence of a deliberate cover up by Labour to hide the open antisemitism of a candidate”, yet there is no evidence of any anti-Semitic content at all; she was calling for international action to force Israel to cease its abuses of the native Palestinian population. If anything, the comparison was too soft on the abusers, many of whom are not Holocaust survivors or their descendants; the attitudes underpinning Israel’s harassment and intimidation of Palestinians are taught in Israel’s schools, media and army. Much as we cannot excuse a real abusive adult because he was abused (by someone else) as a child, we cannot excuse Israel’s oppressions on the grounds that some of the oppressors’ great-grandparents suffered in Auschwitz (and we also cannot justify an ongoing occupation on the grounds of a war by Israel’s other Arab neighbours, two of whom are now at peace with Israel, 50 years ago).

It goes to show that anyone who does not accept the narrative of Israel and its apologists overseas is vulnerable to being accused of anti-Semitism if they are not Jewish, or of being a “self-hating Jew” or “not really Jewish” if they are Jewish. In either case, they are the targets for the new witch hunts against anyone seeking to become a Labour councillor or MP. Muslims have always known this, of course, as has anyone who has been active on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement over the years, but it appears that Labour has been wrong-footed and cowed by an aggressive campaign by a group of pro-Israel bullies and dirt-diggers which does not tolerate dissent. Also last week the JC dredged up an old Facebook post by Zarah Sultana, standing in Coventry South to replace a retiring Labour MP, which accused the Labour Right of ‘weaponising’ anti-Semitism to silence or get rid of their political enemies (which is true); more recently, like Naz Shah in Bradford, she has made a grovelling about-turn, claiming that anyone who uses that term today is contributing to the problem.

The biggest issue in this election is Brexit; make no mistake. It will be the last time we get to vote in an election which will determine whether we get a further vote on the matter. Of the three major parties standing in England, one (itself threatened by a party that favours withdrawing without a deal) favours a bad deal which isolates the British mainland and splits the UK, one favours a further referendum and the third favours annulling the results of the 2016 referendum and revoking Article 50. Yet the two parties which do not have hard Brexit as party policy refuse to form any sort of pact, and the Liberal Democrats insist on not only standing candidates in constituencies with pro-Remain Labour MPs but on standing well-known candidates, including prominent Labour and Tory defectors such as Sam Gyimah who is contesting Kensington. This has led to suggestions that the party is really angling for a coalition with the Tories and is willing to risk a hard Brexit to that end; an alternative explanation is that it has become a refuge for those whose hatred for Jeremy Corbyn is greater than their love for anything or anyone. They proclaim that they will not form a coalition with “an anti-Semite” yet forget that they formed a coalition with the Tories when Boris Johnson was in the cabinet and do not rule out doing so again. Johnson’s very obvious racism, sometimes casual and sometimes studied as exemplified during his years as Spectator editor, is written off as nothing serious when any racism can have lethal consequences.

Not only have I seen letters published on Twitter addressed to Labour MPs telling them the authors will not vote for them because of their association with Corbyn, even though those MPs are innocent of any involvement in the scandal and in some cases are Jewish, I have heard people proclaim that they will vote Tory to avoid helping to elect anyone who might form a coalition with Corbyn. They propose to throw the whole country under the bus, expose us to a hard Brexit with an unfavourable trade deal with both the EU and the USA, all because they can tolerate the stench of numerous racisms against visible minorities that are the target of much official and unofficial hostility but not the whiff of another, towards people they see as “like them”. It is a coalition of wickedness and insanity.

I’ve been critical of Jeremy Corbyn in the past, mainly regarding his ambiguous stance on Brexit and his party’s insistence for too long on “honouring the referendum result” despite the narrow result (the Remain share was greater than many general election wins) and mounting evidence that the Leave campaign lied, employed overt racism and broke the law. I live in a Tory/Lib Dem marginal and will be voting Lib Dem because Labour has no chance of winning, which is one reason I’ve never rejoined the party. However, I’m not going to be loudly criticising Corbyn in the few weeks up to this election, because I want the Tories out and his is the biggest opposition party and the one with the best chance of securing, if not a majority, then at least a large proportion of seats; the Lib Dems have always been a small party and remain a small party which lost the trust of most of its voter base in the 2010-15 coalition. The Labour party has committed itself to a further referendum on Brexit; it’s not my preferred option, but it gives us another chance and that is immeasurably preferable to isolating ourselves with a bad Brexit deal (or none), with the strife and misery that could result from that. However, Labour must face down the bullies, racists and McCarthyites who use false claims of anti-Semitism to silence dissent to a pro-Western and pro-status quo narrative and intend to tolerate no dissent to that narrative; otherwise, they could face challenges from independents in key constituencies. It used to be the party that sang, “though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the Red Flag flying here”; a party dominated by those cowering before racists does not deserve to win any election.

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Homesickness and nostalgia, and why they make bad politics

Indigo Jo Blogs - 2 November, 2019 - 20:17
Constitution Hill, Aberystwyth
(Photo: Lyn Davis).

I’ve lived away from home for two prolonged periods in my childhood and young adulthood. The first was boarding school, near Ipswich. The second was university, in Aberystwyth. The first was two hours from home along mostly motorway; the second was six hours by any route, at least partly along slow, two-lane roads or a slow, single-track rural railway. At the first, I missed home terribly, I spent every journey there looking back and while there, counted down the days until my next trip out or home. At the second, I looked forward as much to going back as I did to going home. I’ve read about homesickness in the context of Roald Dahl’s boarding school memoirs from the 1920s and there was another example by Giles Fraser published on Unherd last Thursday. But I hate the term.

Fraser compares homesickness to nostalgia, which actually means that in Greek although in modern English, it is used to mean longing for a former time rather than another place. He accuses Remainers of using the term as an insult and of implying that it is a sign of weakness (in the sense that a homesick soldier on a tour of duty or child at a boarding school might be), when it is more of a criticism and has strong justification. The nostalgia referred to in the criticism is an unhealthy fixation on a bygone era, usually the time of one’s youth but sometimes even before that, only remembering or even imagining its good points while ignoring or denying the bad and failing to appreciate why the era is bygone and had to change. We often see this in people who hark back to an old age when they believe families were still strong, when children knew their place, when schools had ‘discipline’ and everyone had a home-cooked meal on the table when they came home. Some of this was true but it concealed unhappy marriages which women in particular found it difficult to escape from, outright child abuse and economic and political circumstances which are no longer true. People sometimes talk of the country falling apart because certain categories of people gained rights, but these rights are what stop those people being abused.

The Baby Boomers are the last generation who remember when Britain was the “mother country” of a global empire with large possessions in different parts of the world, all of which it had lost by the start of the 70s. They also remember the cultural “glory days” of Swinging London when British musicians came to be appreciated around the world, even if they were often heavily influenced by American musical forms such as the Blues; this may explain the stance of some ageing celebrity Brexiteers such as Ringo Starr and Roy Wood. Some also remember when “Britain was still white”. What they forget is that the Empire consisted of other people’s countries and was costly to maintain; as for the music, such fashions come and go and many of those musicians (and some who came along after we joined the EEC) have had long and varied careers; those that did not are those who ran out of ideas or who did not develop their musical ability. As for whiteness, the country had a labour shortage which is why it invited people over from the colonies we had occupied, and none of those people came from countries which are now in the EU anyway.

The past is gone; it is no longer real. To be homesick is to be consumed with longing for another real place. It is only really a sickness when it causes actual distress, and this is usually because one’s current place is an unpleasant one because, for example, of abuse or because the standard of living or the behaviour one encounters is nothing like what one is used to and one cannot leave easily if at all. The distress of an abused child in an institution is not like the mild longing someone has for home when they are away on business or studying. I actually don’t like the term homesickness for the abused child; it allows the adults who have placed the child there to evade responsibility for the child’s distress. He doesn’t just “miss his mum”; he misses being loved and cared for as a valued, individual member of a family rather than just another unimportant inmate in an impersonal and uncaring institution, he misses home-cooked (or indeed decent) food, he misses being spoken to with civility, he may miss having quiet and privacy.

As a member of the EU, Britain has generally had a very good deal. We still have our home (and unfettered access to 27 other countries), we still have our own parliament, we still have control of our borders, we have been allowed opt-outs to major European projects. It is grotesque to compare the misguided nostalgia for the Britain of 50 or 60 years ago, of the youth of today’s old or ageing people, with the genuine distress of a child separated from their family and suffering mistreatment. The EU is not an oppressive entity; if it were, we would be facing a military invasion for even holding the 2016 referendum, as two of the nominally independent states of the Warsaw Pact did when they asserted their independence. We have had a say in all the policies which gave rise to the discontent behind the 2016 referendum; we are still not discussing the matter of what of it had anything to do with the EU and could be resolved without leaving. This comparison of the EU to an oppressive regime or to an abusive relationship is a product of privileged ignorance and an insult to anyone who has suffered either. Brexiteers are not homesick; they have their home. They are nostalgic for an era that has gone for good, could not have lasted and had to change, and our media should be honest with them about these things.

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