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Anti-Semitism in context

Indigo Jo Blogs - 12 July, 2019 - 22:30
 for the many not the Jew".A demonstration in London against anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

There was a piece by Gordon Brown, the former chancellor of the Exchequer and prime minister, in the Guardian last Saturday demanding a “more radical” approach to the issue of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. His suggestion was that there should be automatic expulsion in any case where there is “irrefutable evidence of antisemitism or any kind of racism”, that appeals should be heard by a body “independent of the Labour party’s hierarchy, with members chosen for their standing and integrity among the public – and after consultation with the Jewish and other communities” and that a future Labour government should appoint a dedicated minister, “backed up by an ambassador”, to “combat antisemitism – by monitoring and reporting on its evil presence and pressurising governments everywhere to eradicate it”. The piece was unusual in that, in places, it put anti-Semitism in the context of other forms of racism, but the solution was really not all that radical, precisely because it detaches anti-Semitism from racism in general and treats it as a hate apart, deserving of special condemnation or energy in fighting it, while all other forms of racism are lumped together.

There has been a resistance to see anti-Semitism as one form of racism among many; it is sometimes called the “oldest hatred”, dating back to the dawn of Christianity, a claim often repeated but rarely subjected to scrutiny. It is no coincidence that Jews are western and central Europe’s oldest minority; mediaeval Europe did not tolerate the presence of Muslims or indeed Christians of mildly differing beliefs for very long, while Jews were allowed to live here, albeit in separate communities, while Gypsies were persecuted anywhere they lived. There is a hypothesis that anti-Semitism is primal and regardless of the rationale, never rational, while other prejudices are often the product of circumstance (e.g. a new inflow of workers seen as “taking jobs”). That the prejudice morphed in the 19th century from Jews being vilified as “Christ-killers” or just not Christian to being viewed as economic saboteurs or conspirators in various things proves this hypothesis, to many people: it’s part of Europe’s DNA. Christopher Hitchens once observed that, while other minorities are despised as inferiors, anti-Semites often seem to admire Jews as being clever. This is not unique, however; some conservative Islamophobes profess admiration for Muslims in some regards. Mark Steyn has been heard praising Muslims for having strong families and family values. This cohesion is what he believes makes Muslims a threat, especially to a Europe he sees as losing its sense of itself.

Sometimes this doctrine veers into an open declaration that other minorities deserve the prejudice they suffer while Jews do not. Melanie Phillips, on Saturday Politics in May 2018, declared that there was never any excuse for anti-Semitism, which was not like other forms of racism but is “a unique derangement which is based entirely on lies and demonisation”; Islamophobia, meanwhile, was a means of “shutting down legitimate criticism of the Muslim community”. Many dismiss Phillips as an unrepresentative crank, but she gets an awful lot of access to the mainstream media. Much as with terrorism, there is a demand for unconditional condemnation without any equivalence made to anything else; anything less is denounced as equivocation, “whataboutery” and proof of guilt. It is obvious to many of us that other prejudices are not taken anything like as seriously, even within the Labour party, let alone in regard to the Tory party in which serial, open racist Boris Johnson is still the front-runner for the leadership; Sarah Champion in 2017 wrote the below for an article in The Sun and, although relieved of a shadow cabinet position (not immediately but after public protest), remains a Labour MP:

BRITAIN has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.

There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?

For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up.

No more. These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.

In recent days I have seen much discussion on Twitter as to whether Jews are white or not. There is a doctrine that Jews should be excluded from this category and in Israel, the majority of Jews are of Middle Eastern origin (Sephardim and Mizrahim) and some are Black, from Ethiopia. But that is Israel and this is the UK, where the vast majority are of eastern European origin and, apart from the minority of strictly religious Jews who live in a few small areas such as Stanford Hill in north London, look like any other white people. Both the definition of whiteness and its importance in a minority being accepted by the majority changes over time; when Irish and Italian people first arrived in the USA, for example, they were not regarded as white, and were impoverished. Irish people were discriminated against both in employment and housing until well after the Second World War, with houses and flats to rent being advertised with the rider “no Irish, no Blacks, no dogs”. That has since changed, as it has with the Jews who mostly arrived in the UK in the early 20th century mostly from what is now Poland, fleeing persecution under the Russian Tsars. From the late 1940s onwards, the ‘face’ of immigration was a black or brown one; to this day, those immigrants and their descendants are still associated with their countries of origin while British Jews are called just that.

British Jews are accepted in a way non-white minorities are not. I have never heard of British Jews being subjected to disproportionate stops and searches by police, for example. I have not heard of British Jews being shot dead or choked to death by the police. This is what “white privilege” means in a society like ours: that you look like you belong to the majority, that you do not look foreign, you are not seen as a threat just for being in a public place and your place in this country is accepted: you are not told to “go home”. Media coverage of Jewish issues amplifies the voices of ‘mainstream’ representatives and often vilifies dissenters (or censors them, as we saw with a letter to the Guardian that was published this week and then removed from the website after a complaint from the Board of Deputies), while trusted and mainstream Muslim voices are dismissed as unrepresentative or politically biased (usually as Islamist sympathisers) and fringe voices, often hostile to the majority, amplified. When Jews try to police the boundaries of their community by pointing out that many anti-Zionist Jewish figures are really not all that Jewish, they are believed; when Muslims do the same, they may be accused of using the “True Scotsman fallacy” at best or of calling for someone’s murder at worst.

It does not matter if Jews were not regarded as white, or white enough, in the distant past in Europe. What matters is where they stand, and where the majority stands in regards to them, now. In Europe, cultural or religious sameness has been important to be accepted in society in the long run; in Britain and the USA now, white skin is the most important factor followed by native dress and speech. Anyone who proclaims, as I have seen on Twitter in the last few weeks, that there is “no such thing as a white Jew” is being wilfully blind to obvious facts. A dark-skinned person spouting the nonsense Melanie Phillips does would not get anything like as much media coverage, and a dark-skinned minority would have to fight to get racism they were experiencing recognised by a whole swath of the media. Look at the university racism scandal reported on the front page of the Guardian last Saturday; this is something that has been bubbling on social media for years and only just got into a mainstream publication, yet the Guardian and other mainstream publications have covered the “Labour anti-Semitism crisis” in huge detail with regular front-page stories and sanctimonious opinion pieces, like Gordon Brown’s, since it began.

So, let’s not pretend that the past is still with us, the past where the Jews were a persecuted minority and suffered outright discrimination and worse. The past doesn’t “go anywhere”, to use the title of a popular pamphlet on this topic, but it is still past; it is not still here. It is not anti-Semitic to claim that this is no longer the case; it is fact. It is not anti-Semitic to say that a white Jew who can walk down the street and not fear the police is no less white for being a Jew, much as is the case with white Muslims (and Black Muslims both here and in the USA never let us forget it). While it is not true that all Jews are rich or that they control capitalism or the media, it is true that they are not a community associated with poverty nowadays and it is true that they are better represented in the mainstream media and get a more favourable treatment from it than most visible minorities. It is not ‘radical’ to foster hypervigilance to what may (or in fact may not) be mild expressions of prejudice towards a minority which is relatively privileged nowadays, while glossing over very overt hostility, even hatred, towards other minorities. It’s not radical to use a superficial “anti-racist” stance to shore up an oppressive regime perceived as a western ally. No, “anti-Semitism versus Islamophobia” is not and should not be an either-or, but as long as people openly display the latter while denying it exists, while reminding us of the “oldest hatred”, any warning about anti-Semitism which pointedly omits mention of other racism must be answered with “what about?”, because history proves that all racism can have the same result, i.e. violence.

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Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1

Muslim Matters - 12 July, 2019 - 16:44

Alhamdulillah, it’s a great blessing of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) that He has given us both the opportunity and ability to come here tonight to study and explore the meanings of His words in Surah Maryam. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. May Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accept this effort from all of us and place it on our scale of good deeds.

Alhamdulillah, in our last series we were able to complete the tafsir of Surah Al-Kahf. InshAllah, in this next series, we’ll be exploring the meanings, lessons, and reminders of Surah Maryam. Tafsīr is an extremely noble and virtuous discipline. The reason why it’s so noble and virtuous is that it’s the study of the divine speech of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). As mentioned in a hadith the superiority of the speech of Allah over all other speech is like the superiority of Allah over all of His creation. There’s nothing more beneficial and virtuous than studying the Quran. And by doing so we’ll be counted amongst the best of people. As the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “the best amongst you are those who learn the Quran and teach it.”

All of us need to build a stronger relationship with the Quran. The Quran is full of wisdom and guidance in every single verse and word. It’s our responsibility to seek that guidance, understand it, contextualize it and more importantly act upon it. Tafsīr is such a unique science that it brings together all of the other Islamic sciences. While exploring a Surah a person comes across discussions regarding Arabic grammar and morphology, rhetoric, Ahādīth, fiqh, sīrah and all those studies that are known as the Islamic Sciences. One scholar described the Quran as an ocean that has no shore, بحر لا ساحل له. The more we study the Qur’ān the stronger our relationship with it will become. We’ll become more and more attached to it and will be drawn into its beauty and wonder. The deeper a person gets into tafsir and studying the more engaged and interested they become. They also recognize how little they truly know. It develops humility. That’s the nature of true knowledge. The more we learn the more we recognize we don’t know. May Allah ﷻ allow us all to be sincere and committed students of the Qur’ān.

Surah Maryam

Surah Maryam is the 19th surah in the Quran. It is a relatively long Makki surah made up of 98 verses. Some commentators mention that it’s the 44th Surah to be revealed, after Surah Al-Fatir and before Surah Taha. It has been given the name Maryam because Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) mentions the story of Maryam (as) and her family and how she gave birth to Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) miraculously at the beginning of the Surah. Just like other Makkan surahs, it deals with the most fundamental aspects of our faith. It talks about the existence and oneness of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), prophethood, and resurrection and recompense.

The Surah is made up of a series of unique stories filled with guidance and lessons that are meant as reminders. One of the main themes of this Surah is mercy… It has been mentioned over 16 times in this Surah. We’ll find the words of grace, compassion and their synonyms frequently mentioned throughout the sūrah, together with Allah’s attributes of beneficence and mercy. We can say that one of the objectives of the Surah is to establish and affirm the attribute of mercy for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). That’s why all of the stories mentioned also have to do with Allah’s mercy.

Another objective of the Surah is to remind us of our relationship with Allah ﷻ; the concept of Al-‘Ubūdiyyah. These are the two major themes or ideas of this Surah; the concept of Rahmah and the concept of ‘Ubūdiyyah (Mercy and Servitude).

The Surah can be divided into 8 sections:

1) Verses 1-15: The surah starts with the story of Zakariyya (as) and how he was given the gift of a child at a very old age, which was something strange and out of the ordinary.

2) Verses 16-40: mention the story of Maryam and the miraculous birth of Isa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) without a father and how her community responded to her.

3) Verses 41-50: The surah then briefly mentions one part of the story of Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), specifically the conversation he had with his father regarding the worship of idols. The surah then briefly mentions a series of other Prophets.

4) Verses 51-58: Mention Musa and Haroon 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), Ismail 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and Idrees 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) to show that the essence of the message of all Prophets was the same

5) Verses 59-65: compare and contrast the previous generations with the current ones in terms of belief and actions.

6) Verses 66-72: Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) addresses the Mushrikoon rejecting their false claims regarding life after death and judgment.

7) Verses 73-87: continue to address the Mushrikoon and warn them regarding their attitude towards belief in Allah and His messengers. They also mention the great difference between the resurrection of the believer and the resurrection of the non-believer.

8) Verses 88-98: contain a severe warning to those who claim that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has taken a child. They also express that Allah is pleased with the believers and mentions that one of the objectives of the Quran is to give glad tidings to the believers and to warn the non-believers.

Story

From various narrations, we learn that this surah was revealed near the end of the fourth year of Prophethood. This was an extremely difficult time for Muslims. The Quraysh were frustrated with their inability to stop the message of Islam from spreading so they became ruthless. They resorted to any method of torture that they could think of; beating, starving and harassing. When the persecution became so severe that it was difficult for the Muslims to bear it, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) gave permission to migrate to Abyssinia. “For in it dwells a king in whose presence no one is harmed.” 10 men and 4 women migrated in the 5th year of Prophethood secretly. After a few months, a larger group of 83 men and 18 women migrated as well. This migration added more fuel to the fire. It enraged the people of Quraysh.

Umm Salamah [rahna]narrated, “When we stopped to reside in the land of Abyssinia we lived alongside the best of neighbors An-Najashi. We practiced our religion safely, worshipped Allah without harm and didn’t hear anything we disliked. When news of our situation reached the Quraysh they started to plot against us…” They decided to send two delegates to persuade An-Najashi to send the Companions back by offering him and his ministers’ gifts. The plan was to go to each minister with gifts and turn them against the Muslims. So they went to each minister with gifts and said, “Verily, foolish youth from amongst us have come to the country of your king; they have abandoned the religion of their people and have not embraced your religion. Rather they have come with a new religion that neither of us knows. The noblemen of their people, from their fathers and uncles, have sent us to the king asking that he send them back. So when we speak to the king regarding their situation advise him to surrender them to us and to not speak to them…” The minister agreed.

Then they went to the king, offered him gifts and said the same thing… The ministers tried to convince him as well. An-Najashi became angry with them and said, “No, by Allah, I will not surrender them to these two and I don’t fear the plotting of a people who have become my neighbors, have settled down in my country, and have chosen me (to grant them refuge) over every other person. I will not do so until I summon them and speak to them. If they are as these two say I will give them up, but if they aren’t then I will protect them from these two and continue to be a good neighbor to them as long as they are good neighbors to me.”

al-Najāshī then summoned the Prophet’s ﷺ Companions. When his messenger informed the Prophet’s Companions that they were to appear before the king, they gathered together to discuss what they should do. One of them asked, “What will you say to the name (al-Najāshī) when you go to him?” They all agreed on what they would say to him, “By Allah, we will say what our Prophet ﷺ taught us and commanded us with, regardless of the consequences.” Meanwhile, al-Najāshī called for his priests, who gathered around him with their scrolls spread out before them. When the Muslims arrived al-Najāshī began by asking them, “What is this religion for which you have parted from your people? You have not entered into the fold of my religion, nor the religion of any person from these nations.”

Umm Salamah [rahna] narrated, “The Person among us who would speak to him was Jaʿfar ibn abī Ṭālib [rahnu] who then said, “O king, we were an ignorant people: we worshipped idols, we would eat from the flesh of dead animals, we would perform lewd acts, we would cut off family ties, and we would be bad neighbors; the strong among us would eat from the weak. We remained upon that state until Allah sent us a Messenger, whose lineage, truthfulness, trustworthiness, and chastity we already knew. He invited us to Allah – to believe in His oneness and to worship Him; to abandon all that we and our fathers worshipped besides Allah, in terms of stones and idols. He ﷺ commanded us to speak truthfully, to fulfill the trust, to join ties of family relations, to be good to our neighbors, and to refrain from forbidden deeds and from shedding blood. And he ﷺ forbade us from lewd acts, from uttering falsehood, from wrongfully eating the wealth of an orphan, from falsely accusing chaste women of wrongdoing. And he ﷺ ordered us to worship Allah alone and to not associate any partners with him in worship; and he ﷺ commanded us to pray, to give zakāh, and to fast.” He enumerated for al-Najāshī the teachings of Islam. He said, “And we believe him and have faith in him. We follow him in what he came with. And so we worship Allah alone, without associating any partners with Him in worship. We deem forbidden that which he has made forbidden for us, and we deem lawful that which he made permissible for us. Our people then transgressed against us and tortured us. The tried to force us to abandon our religion and to return from the worship of Allah to the worship of idols; they tried to make us deem lawful those abominable acts that we used to deem lawful. Then, when they subjugated us, wronged us, and treated us in an oppressive manner, standing between us and our religion, we came to your country, and we chose you over all other people. We desired to live alongside you, and we hoped that, with you, we would not be wronged, O king.” al-Najāshī said to Jaʿfar [rahnu], “Do you have any of that which he came with from Allah?” Jaʿfar [rahnu] said, “Yes”. “Then recite to me,” said al-Najāshī. Jaʿfar [rahnu] recited for him the beginning of Surah Maryam. By Allah, al-Najāshī began to cry, until his beard became wet with tears. And when his priests heard what Jaʿfar [rahnu] was reciting to them, they cried until their scrolls became wet. al-Najāshī then said, “By Allah, this and what Mūsa (as) came with come out of the same lantern. Then by Allah, I will never surrender them to you, and henceforward they will not be plotted against and tortured.”

Describing what happened after the aforementioned discussion between al-Najāshī and Jaʿfar [rahnu], Umm Salamah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “When both ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ and ʿAbdullah ibn abī Rabīʿah left the presence of al-Najāshī, ʿAmr [rahnu] said, “By Allah tomorrow I will present to him information about them with which I will pull up by the roots their very lives.” Abdullah ibn Rabīʿah who was more sympathetic of the two towards us said, “Don’t do so, for they have certain rights of family relations, even if they have opposed us.” ʿAmr said, “By Allah, I will inform him that they claim that ʿĪsā ibn Maryam is a slave.”

He went to the king on the following day and said, “O king, verily, they have strong words to say about ʿĪsa (as). Call them here and ask them what they say about him.” al-Najāshī sent for them in order to ask them about ʿĪsa. Nothing similar to this befell us before. The group of Muslims gathered together and said to one another, “What will you say about ʿĪsa when he asks you about him?” They said, “By Allah, we will say about him that which Allah says and that which our Prophet ﷺ came with, regardless of the outcome.” When they entered into his presence, he said to them, “What do you say about ʿĪsa ibn Maryam?” Jaʿfar raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said, “We say about him that which our Prophet ﷺ came with – that he is the slave of Allah, His messenger, a spirit created by Him, and His word, which he bestowed on Maryam, the virgin, the baṭūl.”

al-Najāshī struck his hand on the ground and took from it a stick. He then said, “ʿĪsa ibn Maryam did not go beyond what you said even the distance of the stick.” When he said this, his ministers spoke out in anger, to which he responded, “What I said is true even if you speak out in anger, by Allah. (Turning to the Muslims, he said) Go, for you are safe in my land. Whoever curses you will be held responsible. And I would not love to have a reward of gold in return for me hurting a single man among you. (Speaking to his ministers he said) Return to these two (men) their gifts, since we have no need for them. For by Allah, Allah did not take from me bribe money when He returned to me my kingdom, so why should I take bribe money. The two left, defeated and humiliated; and returned to them were the things they came with. We then resided alongside al-Najāshī in a very good abode, with a very good neighbor.”

The response was simply amazing in its eloquence. A believer puts the needs of his soul before the needs of his body. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts the Surah by saying,

Verse 1: Kaf, Ha, Ya, ‘Ayn, Sad.

Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) starts Surah Maryam with a series of five letters. There are many different saying or explanations regarding these five letters. The most correct opinion is that these are from the broken letters. There are 29 different Surahs in the Quran that start with the broken letters. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone knows the meanings of these letters. They are a secret from amongst the secrets of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), meaning that no one knows what they truly mean. Only Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) knows their meanings so they are from amongst the Mutashaabihat, those verses whose meanings are hidden.

However, we do find that some great Companions, as well as their students, sometimes gave meanings to these words. For example, it’s said that it is in acronym and each letter represents one of the names of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Kaf is for Al-Kafi or Al-Kareem, “haa” is for Al-Hadi, “yaa” is from Hakeem or Raheem, “’ayn” is from Al-‘Aleem or Al-‘Adheem, and “saad” is from Al-Saadiq. Others said that it is one of the names of Allah and it’s actually Al-Ism Al-‘Atham or that it’s a name of the Quran. However, these narrations can’t be used as proof or to assign definitive meanings. They offer possibilities, but no one truly knows what they mean.

Now the question should come to our mind that why would Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) start of a Surah with words that no one understands?

1) To grab the attention of the listeners.

2) To remind us that no matter how much we know there’s always something that we don’t know.

3) These letters are the letters of the Arabic language and the Quran was revealed at a time that was the peak of eloquence of the language and it was their identity. The Quran was revealed challenging them spiritually and intellectually. The Arabs never heard these letters being used in such a majestic way.

4) To prove the inimitable nature of the Quran.

Allah then starts the story of Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Zakariyya 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was one of the Prophets sent to Bani Israel. He was the husband of Maryam’s paternal aunt. He was also one of the caretakers or custodians of Baitul Maqdis.

The post Lessons From Surah Maryam: 1 appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Of mice, men, mockingbirds and caged birds

Indigo Jo Blogs - 11 July, 2019 - 18:30
A picture of three stacks of three different editions of "To Kill a Mockingbird", of which one has a sticker advertising Harper Lee's other book, "Go Set a Watchman", to be released July 2015.Various editions of To Kill a Mockingbird

Today I saw a piece in the Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based newspaper, in which a professor at York University (the one in Toronto) called for schools to change the way they teach the novel To Kill a Mockingbird or to stop teaching it. This is because the novel uses the ‘N-word’ very liberally, which according to Professor Carl James “lends legitimacy to the word particularly in the absence of critical analysis in terms of the historical context, who is using the word and its effect on learners”. The article also quotes Poleen Grewal, the associate director of instruction and equity support services at Peel school board, which serves a district west of Toronto, as saying that the frequent use of the word was “hurting and harming black kids” and that the book’s sole major Black character, Tom Robinson, was “one-dimensional”. The board has started to recommend other texts which discuss issues of race and are more relevant, including books by Rohinton Mistry, Malorie Blackman, Richard Wagamese and Lawrence Hill. (The Star, another Canadian newspaper, published this article last November, arguing that it was time to “move on” from To Kill A Mockingbird. Hat tip to sis. Taqwa who tweeted both these articles.)

I grew up and live in England and have never read Mockingbird, but as a teenager I did English at A-level and studied Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which was about a brutal quadruple murder in 1950s rural Kansas whose perpetrators were ultimately hanged. My sister studied Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men at school and my mother studied a selection of American literature which included Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. In Cold Blood is not really about race but about American justice, and demonstrated that judges and politicians were willing to sacrifice human life for power, using legal doctrines to discount evidence of a defendant’s insanity, for example. But the others were set in mid-20th century southern America and used racial slurs, especially the N-word, very liberally. Some of the authors were Black and some were White, but we all got to read out passages of it.

The overuse of the N-word is only one criticism of these books; another is that Mockingbird in particular focusses on a “white hero” who saves a Black person from injustice rather than on the lives of Black people themselves. The problem of one-dimensional characters is not confined to Mockingbird; it is noticeable that all the characters in The Color Purple other than the Black women are either vicious or stupid, or both. However, their biggest weakness as set texts for our time is that they teach racism through the prism of another place and time and a specific regime — segregation — which is no longer in place. It’s possible to grow up white in a diverse city nowadays and not realise racism exists, especially if you do not live in a diverse area yourself, so reading a book about small-town Arkansas in the 1940s where there was segregation and obvious, violent racism backed by officialdom, where a dentist will openly racially abuse a little girl to her grandmother, will not teach you anything about your own time. Young people in London need to know about the experiences of different people in their own city or one a lot like it, but in practice will not be expected to read a book set in their own country in modern times. (I also studied Jane Eyre, Hamlet, The Knight’s Tale and the Post-Romantic poets such as Tennyson and Browning; for GCSE, at an all-boys boarding school, I did not study a single whole novel by a woman.)

I am not suggesting that school pupils never study texts set in 20th century America; it’s an important body of literature by a diverse group of authors in terms of race and gender. They cover other important subjects besides race (sexual abuse and trauma in the case of Caged Bird). But race in modern Britain and Canada is not Black and White and the books our children study at school should reflect the realities of the world they grow up in, not a bygone era.

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Go Visit Bosnia

Muslim Matters - 11 July, 2019 - 14:24

I have been to 35 countries, from Japan and China in the Far East, to Mexico and Columbia in South America, to Egypt and Morocco in North Africa, and there has not been another trip that was as profound in so many ways as my last trip to Bosnia. Go Visit Bosnia.

Besides Bosnia’s natural beauty, affordability and hospitality, the enrichment that comes from learning about a different culture, its cuisines, its complicated politics, and a genocide not yet 25 years old, is one that turns tourism into an experience not easily forgotten.

To the last point, why do human beings travel? What is it about a new destination that is appealing to us? Fun can be achieved in your neck of the world, so why wander? There are those who live in picture-perfect Switzerland but love to travel to remote deserts of Africa or the beaches of Indonesia. That is because traveling through new lands is a human instinct—a yearning to experience different cultures, foods, and environments.

Moreover, there is nothing more precious in life than experiences. Those who have had a sudden onset of terminal disease at an early age have an important perspective from which we can all learn. Why? Because the knowledge that you are dying quickly ends any sense of immortality, and what truly matters is crystallized. When asked what is it that they cherished most in their lives, pretty much all of them mentioned how the satisfaction from experiences such as travel beats the enjoyment of material riches any day.

What is an experience? Is it a fun week at Disney? Is it an adventure-filled trek through mountains? Is it going to a place to learn a new language? Actually, all of them are experiences, and it is not just going to a new place, but it is what you make out of that travel. If it is just fun, games, and shopping, have you really enriched your own life? Or have you missed out?

So when we planned our trip to Bosnia, many in our circle were a bit surprised as Bosnia is not on most travelers’ bucket lists. Muslims generally have Turkey and Malaysia in their must-visits “halal trips”, but after my trip to Bosnia, I feel that all Muslim travelers should add Bosnia to their short-list. Bosnia is a Muslim majority country, but barely so with about 50% Muslims, 30% Serbian Orthodox Christian and 15% Croat Catholics. I know this concerns many people, so let me add that food is generally halal unless you are in a non-Muslim village. Your guide will ensure that.

However, let me add that Bosnia is not just good for Muslims (just as Turkey and Malaysia appeal to everyone); people of all faiths can enjoy from the enriching trip to Bosnia.

Our trip began with selecting a reliable tour operator. While people tend to skip operators, preferring to book directly, I firmly believe that a professional should organize your first trip to a relatively unknown destination. I can honestly say I would have missed 50% of the enrichment without the presence of Adi, a highly educated tour guide, who was such a pleasant and friendly person that we almost felt him part of the family. The tour company itself belongs to a friend who worked for a major international company, before moving to his motherland to become part of Bosnia’s success. At the end of this article, I am providing contacts with this tour company, which MuslimMatters is proud to have as its partner for any Balkan travel.

Travel Bosnia, Visit Bosnia

Coming to the trip, I am not going to describe it in the sequence of the itinerary, but just some of the wonderful places we visited and the memorable experiences. We had 10 days for the trip and I would say a minimum of one week is needed to barely enjoy what Bosnia has to offer. However, two weeks if available would make it less hectic and give more time to absorb most of what Bosnia has to offer.

Our trip started in Sarajevo, a beautiful city. Even though it’s Bosnia’s largest city, the population is around half a million. Remember Bosnia itself has a relatively small population of 3.5 million. An additional 2 million people in the Bosnian diaspora are spread throughout the world, mostly due to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. We walked through the old town and heard amazing stories from our guide. Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I have seen its pictures and can see why many people refer to Sarajevo as the “little Jerusalem”. We heard the interesting story about the assassination of the Archduke of Austria in 1914 (the Austria-Hungarian empire controlled Bosnia at the time) and the beginning of World War 1. We visited the Ottoman bazaar, the City Hall, the Emperor’s Mosque, and many other interesting areas.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a compact city on the Miljacka River, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. Its center has museums commemorating local history, including Sarajevo 1878–1918, which covers the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that sparked World War I. Landmarks of the old quarter, Baš?aršija, include the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque.

Like most cities in Bosnia, a river flows right through the center of Sarajevo.

The magnificent building that houses Sarajevo City Hall is located in the city of Sarajevo. It was initially the largest and most representative building of the Austro-Hungarian period in Sarajevo and served as the city hall. During the siege of Sarajevo that lasted over 3 years, Serbs targeted this building, focusing on destroying a rich collection of books and manuscripts inside it, and it was essentially burned down. After years of reconstruction, the building was reopened on May 9, 2014.

As we were walking on the streets, I took a picture of a man sitting carefree on the bench near the garden. I found this man’s peaceful enjoyment of the weather fascinating. He was in his own world— eyes closed and smiling.

Visit Bosnia

As you go into the Old Town, you will find many shops like this one in the picture of metal-crafts. Bosnians have been historically folks with mastery in metal and wood crafts. One historic shop that still functions and has some fabulous wood pieces is shown in the pictures.

 

 

As you go through the city, you will find many graveyards as well, reminding everyone of the longest modern age siege of Sarajevo. One particular grim reminder is a memorial near the city center dedicated to the children who were killed during the war.

Visit Bosnia, SarajevoOur trip coincided with the annual somber anniversary of the beginning of the siege, April 5, 1992. Bouquets of flowers adorned the remembrance area.

Visit Bosnia

Another major graveyard (massive area) has graves of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and few Bosnian Croats (Catholics). They fought against each other with the oppressor by all accounts being the Serbs. Now they all lie together next to each other. The white tombstones are Muslims, the black ones Serbs. One pic shows a particular Serb person who lived 101 years, only to die in the first year of the war. Most of the tombstones indicated the year of death during 1992-95, the war years. Some of the white tombstones have “Sehid” written which means martyr. Interestingly, Serbs use Greek letters and other Bosnians Latin, so most signs are in both languages.

You can go up to a café in Hecco Deluxe Hotel, which is Sarajevo’s oldest “skyscraper” and just absorb a 360 view of the city.  I was able to take one picture that captured the signs of all three major religious groups in Bosnia, as labeled in the photo. However, this is also a reflection of a country divided with 3 presidents, one from each religious group. Remember that the massacres were conducted by mostly Bosnian Serbs (not Serbian Serbs) and at some point, the Bosnian Croats also backstabbed the Bosnian Muslims (for example by destroying the vital ottoman old bridge in Mostar). Croatia and Serbia were planning to divide Bosnia between themselves but the Bosnian Muslims held their own until finally, NATO stepped in. It remains shocking how genocide could happen in the 90s in the heart of Europe. And it says a lot about the hypocrisy of the “West” in general. Many Bosnian Muslims remain bitter about it and I find it amazing that despite living among their potential killers, no revenge attacks have taken place. The political situation remains stable but tenuous— extremely safe but one political crisis away from going downhill. However, everyone is war fatigued and in case of a crisis, most people intend to just leave the country than to fight again.

Visit Bosnia

A view from Hecco Deluxe Hotel, Bosnia

Visit Bosnia

In the old city, you will also find the famous Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque that was built in the 16th century; it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. A very interesting facet of the mosque is the clock tower. This is probably the only clock in the world that starts at dawn and ends at dusk. Every day, a caretaker adjusts the time to reflect the actual hours. So whenever you look at it, you will know how many hours to Maghrib prayers!

Watering hole structure for stray cats and dogs

Another interesting feature and a reflection of the concern for animals is the watering hole structure set up for stray cats and dogs. It kind of looks like a toilet seat, with the purpose that an animal like a cat may climb the seat and drink from the small water reservoir that is constantly filled by the caretakers.

If you want to shop for normal stuff, there is the Sarajevo City Center (SCC). It has all the popular international brands, but what I found interesting is that the prices were in many cases even lower than American prices, which if you have been around, is quite rare. So if you are coming from the Middle East or Europe, definitely check this mall out.

Vrelo Bosne:

 

Just outside Sarajevo in the outskirts of the city, you a public park, featuring the spring of the River Bosna, at the foothills of the Mount Igman on the outskirts of Sarajevo. This beautiful park and the spring is a remarkable sight. It is a must see when you visit Bosnia. Crystal clear water allows you to see the entire waterbed. A beautiful white swan swam, followed by a couple of gorgeous ducks.

Visit Bosnia

Museum Tunnel of War:

This small museum showcases the tunnel that was built underneath the airport tarmac by Bosnian Muslims in order to carry food, supplies and even arms. It was called “Tunnel of Hope” and constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. While the Bosnian Serbs besieging the country were armed to the teeth with weapons from the ex-Yugoslavian army, an embargo of weapons was applied, essentially making Bosnian Muslims sitting ducks. Such was the treachery of the international community. This tunnel helped the Bosnian Muslims protect Sarajevo from total surrender. You can see the names of those killed here.

A truck driver on the “exit” side of the tunnel would then transport these supplies up and down some treacherous mountains. The driver’s wife is still alive and has a small shop that sells souvenirs—be sure to visit and buy some.

Blagaj

This is a village-town in the southeastern region of the Mostar basin. Here we relaxed and ate fresh fish at the source of the Buna River, right next to where the water sprung out from the mountains underneath a cave. This is one of those dining experiences where the scenery makes your food even more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.

Travnik

Visit Bosnia

This is a town and municipality and the administrative center of Central Bosnia Canton. It is situated about 50 miles west of Sarajevo. Historically, it was the capital city of the governors of Bosnia from 1699 to 1850, and has a cultural heritage dating from that period. Here you see a pre-Ottoman Fort (1300s) is still in great shape. It stands on top of the hill with mountains behind it so no one could enter the city without being spotted. The scenery from the top is also fantastic as seen in the picture. The oldest mosque of the city was built here. There were 20 mosques were built in the city, of which 17 survived to date.

Jajce

It is situated in the mountains; there is a beautiful countryside near the city, rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, lakes like Pliva Lake, which is also a popular destination for the local people and some tourists. This lake is called Brana in the local parlance. In 1527, Jajce became the last Bosnian town to fall to Ottoman rule, and you will see the gate to the city that fell to the Ottomans.  The 17-meter high Pliva waterfall was named one of the 12 most beautiful waterfalls in the world.

Mostar

Visit Bosnia

It is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it in an act of treachery in November 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in July 2004 with support from various nations.

 

Mostar is a beautiful city. You can also shop here and like all of Bosnia, you will not be haggled or conned (something that has become a feature of doing business in Turkey, unfortunately). There is one large shop that sells bed-sheets, table covers, etc. owned by a guy from Kosovo. You will not miss it if you are going through the bazaar. That is worth buying if you like such stuff.

Not far from the Old Bridge, you can climb up a narrow staircase to a top of a mosque minaret and have another breath-taking view of the city and of the Old Bridge itself. The climb is not terribly difficult but may be a stretch for the elder.

Visit Bosnia

Mostar Old Bridge (1567) (UNESCO World Heritage List)

Olympic Mountains Bjelasnica

Bjelašnica is a mountain in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is found directly to the southwest of Sarajevo, bordering Mt. Igman.  Bjelašnica’s tallest peak, by which the whole mountain group got its name, rises to an elevation of 2067 meters (6782 feet). This is one of the resorts that hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. The main hotel here serves delicious food. If you are a skier, then the many mountains of Bosnia make for perfect (and very cheap) skiing options.

Bosnia

Srebrenica

Visit Bosnia

Srebenica, Bosnia

Epicenter of the Bosnian genocide, where 8372 civilians were murdered as the world watched callously. This is a must when you visit Bosnia. The genocide museum houses stories and eyewitness accounts. It is in one part of a massive warehouse that used to be a factory for car batteries before it became the command post for the UN designated Dutch army, sent to protect the Bosnian Muslim civilians, but later turning into cowards who gave up thousands for slaughter.

We met a survivor whose to this date chokes as he recalls his escape, walking 60 miles sleepless, hungry to reach Bosnian territory. Shakes you to the core.

Till today, not all bodies have been found or identified. Some of the bodies were moved to secondary graves by the Serbs to hide evidence. The green posts are the discoveries between one July 11 anniversary to the next— to be converted to white tombstones.

 

This day trip by far was the most moving. A genocide that shook us 25 years ago, but that we only heard of, is brought to life here. The museum offers stories and footage of the genocide. The graveyard makes your heart sink.

Unfortunately, this genocide is mostly forgotten and is something that we must never forget. Just as visits to Auschwitz are important to remember the Holocaust, we must make Srebrenica a place to visit, such that it becomes a history that we must never forget.

Other places of interest (not all-inclusive by any means):

Woodcrafts in Konjic, Bosnia

On the way back from Mostar to Sarajevo, be sure to stop by Konjic where you can stop by a very old woodcarving shop that to this date provides fabulous woodcrafts.

Visit Bosnia

You can also stop by Sunny Land, a small park where you can ride an alpine roller coaster that kids (and adults) will definitely enjoy. A bit further from this location, you can see the remains of the bobsled structure, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Visit Bosnia, Sunnyland

Our guide was The Bosnian Guide.

The post Go Visit Bosnia appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Malaysians Ask China To Free Uyghurs, Close The Camps

Muslim Matters - 11 July, 2019 - 13:26

By Gulnaz Uighur

Muslims are standing up for Uyghurs, protests held in Malaysia.

5th of July could be just like another day for people but for Uyghurs, it brings back dark memories of a bloody past. This day, in 2009, thousands of Uyghur students were massacred by Chinese police in Urumqi. These young students were demanding an investigation into the rising number of homicides in a toy factory. These people only wanted justice. They were also upset by the ongoing discrimination in the employment sector. Graduates were denied jobs because of their Uyghur ethnicity. After the protests, China started abducting the Uyghur youth and no one knows where the missing went. Its been 10 years since that horrifying incident and the condition of Muslims have devolved in a genocidal nightmare.

Communist Government in China Has over 2 Million Uyghurs in Concentration Camps

Beijing has now locked over 2 million Uyghurs in concentration camps. People in these places are forced to denounce Islam, forget the teachings of Quran, prohibited from praying, asked to learn Xi Jinping’s speech and tortured for not obeying these orders. Sadly, Islam is being treated as a disease in China and most of the Islamic nations are turning a blind eye to it.

So Malaysia came as a breath of fresh air when Muslim NGOs organized an anti-China protest against Uyghur persecution.

On 5th July 2019, a coalition of 34 Malaysian NGOs gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to protest the persecution of Uyghurs. The organizations prepared a memo of protest to be submitted to Chinese officials. In the memo, they demanded Beijing to ‘Respect the human rights of the Uyghur people, in particular, their right to life and freedom of religion and belief.’ , ‘immediately stop the persecution and extreme repression of the Uyghur people.’ and close the camps. They also called upon the International community to increase the voices of protest and disfavour upon the Chinese government and to work together to improve the situation for the Uyghur people through concrete actions.

The protesters shouted slogans like ‘Me Too Uyghur’ and ‘Save Uyghur’. In a media interview, president of the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (Abim), Mohamad Raimi Abdul Rahim asked immediate freedom for all those who have been detained in concentration camps.

Malaysians Stand With Uyghurs

Abim secretary Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz accused the Chinese government of concealing the plight of the Uyghurs by offering NGOs and government agencies free trips and painting a rosy picture of the camps. Mohd Azmi Abdul Hamid, chairman of the Malaysian Consultative Council Of Islamic Organizations (Mapim), said the atrocities committed against the Uyghurs could not be denied or disguised. The Group of NGOs also included Ikram Association and the Malaysian Youth Council among others.

Though no Chinese official came out to accept the memo, the message was clear that now people won’t keep quiet about the Uyghur persecution. There is a dire need for Muslim countries to break their silence on this issue. There is enough evidence to prove that something unholy and inhumane is happening with Uyghurs. If these countries consider China their friend then ask it to stop being a Shaitan. The leaders must realize that their first duty is towards the Ummah and not towards China.

Now is the time to stand for Uyghurs before nothing is left to be saved.

This protest in  Malaysia has proved that people in Muslim countries do support Uyghurs even if their governments are silent and are upset with Beijing’s policies. This event proved that governments may fail to fight but people won’t.

The post Malaysians Ask China To Free Uyghurs, Close The Camps appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Where is the outrage about the Tory party’s Islamophobia? | Owen Jones

The Guardian World news: Islam - 10 July, 2019 - 18:56
This form of bigotry is acceptable now in Britain. So much so that it’s rife in our governing party

What Tory members think matters. Their party is in government. They select parliamentary candidates who go on to vote on legislation and become ministers, and they exert pressure on them through local Conservative associations. They are now electing the nation’s prime minister. So when evidence of racism is uncovered among their ranks, it should be regarded as a national scandal.

Recent polls conducted for Hope Not Hate by YouGov – which has a solid record when looking at party members – is horrifying. It found that 60% of Tory members believe Islam “is generally a threat to western civilisation”, with less than one in five dissenting; that 54% hold it to be “generally a threat to the British way of life”; and 43% do not want a Muslim as prime minister. Two-thirds believe the lie that parts of Britain are under sharia law; another 45% believe in the racist nonsense that there are no-go areas for non-Muslims; and 40% want to limit Britain’s Muslim population. Among the most chilling findings was that 42% believe “having people from a wide variety of racial and cultural backgrounds” has damaged British society, with just 39% dissenting.

Related: Most UK news coverage of Muslims is negative, major study finds

Related: What happened when I met my Islamophobic troll

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Most UK news coverage of Muslims is negative, major study finds

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 July, 2019 - 07:00

Mail on Sunday named worst offender amid growing scrutiny of Tory Islamophobia

Most coverage of Muslims in British news outlets has a negative slant, according to a major analysis by the Muslim Council of Britain, which concludes that news stories in the mainstream media are contributing to Islamophobia.

The study found the Mail on Sunday had the most negative coverage of Islam, with 78% of its stories featuring Muslims having negative themes – above an already-high industry average of 59%.

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The Guardian view on religious liberty: the freedom to be wrong | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 8 July, 2019 - 18:43
You can believe what you like if you do not act to harm others

Conservative religious believers, of whom there are perhaps 4 billion in the world today, mostly Christians and Muslims, still suppose that homosexuality is sinful. Sometimes their belief is an expression of genuine hatred; sometimes it is an unconsidered expression of belonging in a prejudiced society. In countries where this is a generally accepted prejudice, they probably don’t think about it much. In countries where gay people are accepted and affirmed as equals, fundamentalists have to think more carefully. Some retain their beliefs but place them in a context where homosexuality becomes merely one sin among many others – most of which the believer shares – and nothing to get worked up about. Others turn homophobia into a central point of doctrine, and fight against equality for gay people.

In Britain, Christian Concern is a pressure group which has brought numerous lawsuits in an attempt to establish a right for its members to discriminate against gay people. Almost all of these have been lost. Last week, though, it won a partial victory in an important case at the court of appeal, even though the judgment dismissed most of the argument that the organisation had brought. The case concerned a trainee social worker originally from Cameroon, Felix Ngole, who was thrown off his course by Sheffield University in 2017 after some posts he had made in an argument in the comment section of an American news site two years before were drawn anonymously to the university’s attention. There is no suggestion that Mr Ngole had discriminated against gay people in practice, but the university took the view that “any expression of disapproval of same-sex relations (however mildly expressed) on a public social media or other platform which could be traced back to the person making it, was a breach of the professional guidelines” as the court summarised it.

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Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware

Muslim Matters - 5 July, 2019 - 20:51

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfull

“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”

[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]

Mindful or Mind-full?

Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.

A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.

For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.

Autopilot to Aware

Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?

Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.

Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.

Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.

Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”

Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.

Mindful

Real Life in the Present Moment

You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.

The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.

You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.

The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.

You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.

This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.

The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.

The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.

In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims

Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.

[Imam Al Ghazali]

Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.

Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.

  1. Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
  2. Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
  3. “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx

To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.

The post Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Restorative justice is no substitute for prison

Indigo Jo Blogs - 4 July, 2019 - 22:26
A photograph of the bronze sculpture of "Lady Justice" on top of the Old Bailey criminal court in London, England. The statue has a sword in her right hand and the scales of justice in her left hand.Lady Justice, the Old Bailey, London. (Source: Andrew Middleton.)

Recently I came across a long thread (starting here) arguing against ‘carceral’ (prison-based) responses to serious crimes and, in particular, rape. The argument is that the justice system serves the state’s purpose, which is incarceration, that trials re-traumatise victims (which is certainly true), that victims often sink into depression after trials “primarily because they expected to gain some measure of healing through the criminal justice system that they just didn’t get”, that prisons cause PTSD which increases re-offending (as does having a criminal record), and that a better way of dealing with the crime, assuming the rapist (as it is mostly about rape) admits responsibility, is to require both to undergo a year of intensive therapy and then to allow the victim to place conditions on the attacker’s life. Most of the premises and solutions I find, to say the least, dubious.

Really? I’m sure some survivors would find great comfort in knowing that the person who assaulted them is behind bars and no longer has access to them and cannot attack anyone else. This is particularly the case if the rapist was a man and the victim a woman; of course, a man who attacks boys and men and is sent to prison may well have access to vulnerable men.

This is where we start to see the US-centricity of this whole thread. The American legal system has particular problems; you have elected prosecutors and judges who are looking to score points with the public and media in expectation of re-election, for example. There have been cases where judges have adjudicated young people as delinquent because they had been receiving bribes from the prison industry; in other cases, there is covert lobbying by the prison industry to impose harsher sentences which make them more money. However valid the claim that the state’s goal is incarceration is in the USA, it is not the case in every country where there is a criminal justice system where the default punishment for serious crimes is prison. Historically, societies dealt with serious crimes that posed threats to public safety with either imprisonment or physical punishment, such as flogging, amputation and the death penalty; in many western societies, these have been abolished, either because they were seen as barbaric or because they were irrevocable and innocent people were known to be being killed. To do away with prison will mean society will have no means of keeping the public safe from repetitively violent offenders.

As for victims being forced into testifying: sometimes this is necessary to protect the public, or to avoid the collapse of the trial where there are other offences or defendants, or because large amounts of money have been spent on the trial, a jury dragged away from their lives and sworn in and so on. To make a point I will come back to: the purpose of prison is not just to punish, but to protect.

There are a few tweets following this about the traumatic effect of rape trials themselves: that victims’ accounts are scrutinised to make sure that the incident fits the legal definition of rape, that victims are questioned about what they were wearing at the time, and so on. These are not arguments against having rape trials or a ‘carceral’ justice system to deal with rape but in favour of reforming the way rape trials are conducted and eliminating irrelevant questions that are calculated to simply discredit the victim as a witness. As it is a fact that the victim’s dress makes no contribution to any rape that starts with an attack in the street, such questions should not be asked. Some progress has been made in this area in the UK; maybe not in the USA, or at least in many jurisdictions as laws on rape differ from state to state.

A rape victim experiencing mental illness after the conclusion of a rape trial may not be because she is dissatisfied with the outcome or the penalty; it could well be because this is the hurdle of the trial is past and this is the first time in months that she has time to think about the situation. Some feel intense guilt at having been responsible for someone else’s suffering (see, for example, Maya Angelou in her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, after the man who raped her as a child was murdered after she reported it; also, the 1992 interview in the Guardian with the victim of the 1988 London rape known as the “Babes in the wood” rape, whose attacker was jailed for 12 years, who said that this “seemed like too much power for a 15-year-old to have” but also that “when everyone else stopped caring, [she] started caring”). It shows the importance of counselling being available in the aftermath of a trial, whichever way the verdict goes.

Therapy is not a replacement for a criminal-justice response to a serious crime. It should not be linked to it at all. In the UK, rape counselling centres have been closing because of funding cuts linked to austerity policies; in some cases, abuse victims have been told not to access therapy before a trial as it could result in their evidence being deemed unreliable. There are other ways to “tell your story to an empathetic other” and other “empathetic others” besides therapists; they could be a relative or friend who believes you rather than instinctively doubting you or telling you all the ways you brought the situation on yourself. But none of these things are alternatives to punishment of the offender or getting them off the streets.

And the problem with using restorative justice as a substitute for a criminal-law penalty is that it assumes that the rapist is a first-time offender or is amenable to being taught the error of his ways or that learning to empathise with the suffering of his victim will necessarily ensure he never offends again. The truth is that many rapists are recidivists and that even if the victim that comes forward is his first, she might not be his last. There is more at stake than the feelings or ongoing mental health of this particular victim; everyone in society who might be a future victim has to be protected from him. There are two ways of doing this: imprison him, or kill him. And I am sceptical about empathy-based approaches to serious crime for the same reason as I am about its usefulness in tackling bullying; the offender knows that his behaviour hurts his victim; it is often the reason he does it. The traumatising effect of any of these things, of any element in a street rape, for example, is obvious. They often enjoy the power it gives them; to a torturer, like the torturer in Orwell’s 1984, ‘real’ power comes not only from making someone do what you want, but from making them suffer.

As for the effect of prison on the offender, of course prisons should be safe and sanitary and free of needless infringements of prisoners’ dignity; of course, they should be free of bullying and abuse. These aren’t arguments for abolishing prisons because society as a whole should be free of these things as well. As for it being difficult for ex-offenders to get jobs, many countries have a set time during which they may be required to disclose a conviction but if they are going into certain professions, this is for life, for the protection of whomever they may be working with (e.g. children, disabled people, sick people). Some US jurisdictions have particularly harsh rules on this, or allow employers to require any applicant to declare any conviction up-front (hence the recent “ban the box” campaigns in some states), but they can be reformed in such a way as to protect the public from the most serious offenders while leaving open the possibility of rehabilitation for the less serious ones.

There are cases where restorative justice can work in rape, but they are at the lowest end of the severity scale, where the rapist may not have intended rape as such or realised that this is what he was doing, or with disturbed juvenile offenders. Any case involving premeditation has to be dealt with through the criminal justice system for the protection of the public. If there is only one victim and no realistic prospect of conviction for some reason, it needs to be kept on file because of the very likely prospect of their being more. Prison abolitionism seems to be popular among a certain type of American idealist, largely because their criminal justice system is racist, corrupt and riddled with political interference, but we must not generalise from the American particular to every criminal justice system everywhere. The aim of the state should not be to incarcerate people for its own sake, but to ensure both justice and public safety and this sometimes involves imprisonment.

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999 (is no joke)

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 July, 2019 - 18:33
An iPhone screenshot of What3Words, showing a stretch of the M1 running north to south outside the grounds of Hardwick Hall. There is a dark blue dot with a square showing three slashes, and near the top is a box showing the words "neater, begun, reporting".What3Words’ three words for roughly where I saw the pick-up truck. Though “outside Hardwick Hall” would have been more useful.

Last Saturday I was driving an articulated lorry down the M1 in Derbyshire, on the way back from delivering a trailer load of Mars bars to a depot outside Chesterfield, and I saw a broken down pick-up truck partly obstructing the inside lane (as it was a “smart motorway”, which was installed in two to three years of roadworks a few years ago, there was no hard shoulder he could have pulled over onto). About a hundred yards further on was an overhead matrix sign showing a reduced speed limit because of a “report of obstruction”. I immediately called 999, as this is what you are supposed to do to report a hazard to life and limb (not just an ongoing crime or accident just happened). I got through straight away and when I asked for the police, I got through to them without delay. I then told the operator the issue and he asked me exactly where. I told him the number of the mile post it was nearest to; he told me that “Highways [England] use those; we don’t” and wanted an approximate distance between one junction and another, which I could not give him. Before ending the call, he wanted to know my full address and date of birth.

I must say, it was very surprising to me that the police did not have any way of identifying a location on a motorway from a mile post, as these are found along every British motorway and a fair proportion of A-roads, and in the early 2000s, when mobile phones started to be used routinely to report accidents, larger signs were installed every 500m so that drivers could see them more easily. If the police do not know where a given mile point is, they should — it should be easy enough for a computer to pinpoint a location from a milepost on any given motorway (and there is actually only one motorway in Derbyshire) and they should have a list of which point each junction is at. While I was trying to explain where the broken-down vehicle was, any number of cars and trucks were passing it, quite possibly narrowly avoiding it because the driver will have seen the matrix sign above before they saw the vehicle itself. And why the need for my address and date of birth? He could have just asked my name; he had my phone number as I have been called back by the police after reporting things in the past. 999 is for reporting emergencies, and time is of the essence; it is not for carrying out surveys.

When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone suggested I use the app What3Words on my phone. I was unaware of this at the time; it assigns a unique set of three words to every location in the UK which you can relay to the call handler in any participating emergency service so as to identify the location. Derbyshire police indicated on Twitter last September that they do use the app. However, reading out three random words on what might be a bad phone line (especially on a hands-free in a noisy truck cab) is not the most reliable way of doing this as there is a danger of the word being misheard or the operator misspelling it, even if they have taken trouble to eliminate homophones from the database. I have installed it; it works, and you can use Siri on an iPhone to bring the app up, but it does take a couple of seconds, and if you are doing 56mph (let alone 70mph), your location will have changed by the time it starts looking for the three words; Siri will not open it if you just say “hey Siri, which three words?” and if the environment is noisy, it might not understand you anyway. Quite apart from that, why should I have to install a third-party app when there are marker posts by the side of the road? Why is the police not availing itself of readily-available information?

Of course, I would likely not have had to make the call and distract myself from driving if there had been a hard shoulder and the pick-up truck driver had had somewhere to pull in rather than park halfway onto the inside running lane of a motorway with traffic doing 70mph. Yes, these motorways allow the ‘management’ to put lanes out of action and reduce speed limits when there’s a “report of an obstruction” but if they do not know where you are talking about when you give a specific milepost reference then they cannot do it very accurately, though it may well explain why speed limits are reduced over whole sections rather than the mile or so before the obstruction. It only takes a driver to be distracted for a second to hit a stationary vehicle and if you’re reading a sign that’s just above and beyond a hazard, you might not see the hazard until it’s too late. This is why I’m not convinced by ‘studies’ that show that hard shoulders do not in fact increase safety and removing them is quite safe; it’s very convenient that this discovery was only made when they needed to increase road capacity and did not have the money to actually widen the road. (If they are not necessary, why is the hard shoulder not used as a running lane all the time in places where it can be, such as Luton?) There should be no more of these; road safety should not be sacrificed for the sake of cheap extra capacity and if traffic is flowing at 60 or 70mph most of the time, there must be a hard shoulder or, as on most A-road dual carriageways, frequent stopping places.

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A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse

Muslim Matters - 1 July, 2019 - 15:03

When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it.  Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity. 

There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it. 

There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.

The Wall of Silence

In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing. 

The Kafir Court Rationale

There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves. 

Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea

In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments. 

Your Vile Nafs Culpe

Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution. 

Pray it Away Pretext

Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up. 

The Forgive and Forget Pardon

They are told to forgive…

Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.

The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct

It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that. 

Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.

As members of the community, we should expect more.  Here is how:

  •  Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct. 
  •  If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
  •  Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency. 
  • When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.  
Establish a Protocol

A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.

Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh

In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable.  In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.

The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior.  You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.  

Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident.  One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior.  Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’

On Power, Boundaries, And The Accountability Of Imams

This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level.  Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.

Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse.  This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.

Use of Institutional Handbooks

Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding.  By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.

When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse.  Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.

Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means.  By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.

Download the Code of Conduct For Islamic Leadership By In Shaykh’s Clothing

Blurred Lines: Women, “Celebrity” Shaykhs, and Spiritual Abuse

The post A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Prevent is stopping free speech on campus and demonising Muslims | Nadine El-Enany

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 July, 2019 - 12:51
New figures confirm that the government’s McCarthyistic counter-terrorism strategy is curtailing progressive dissent

Many staff and students at universities across Britain will have welcomed Liberty’s condemnation of the chilling effect the government’s counter-terrorism strategy is having on free speech on campuses. Recently published figures from the Office for Students showed that more than 2,000 events across Britain’s 300 or so higher education institutions have been affected by Prevent.

While some events were allowed to take place with conditions attached, 53 events or speaker requests on campuses were rejected altogether by university authorities. The demonisation of Muslims through the Prevent strategy has led to progressive dissent more broadly being curtailed.

Related: UK's Prevent strategy 'biggest threat to free speech on campus'

Related: An Islamophobic security agenda shouldn't mix with arts funding | Naz Shah

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Just 22 mosques given funding for hate crime security last year

The Guardian World news: Islam - 30 June, 2019 - 17:51

Distrust of Prevent scheme among reasons cited for lack of uptake of government scheme

Widespread distrust of the Home Office’s counter-extremism strategy by British Muslims has been cited as one of the obstacles to mosques using a government scheme to protect places of worship from hate crime, after figures showed just 22 received funding last year.

The £375,413 awarded to the mosques under the scheme is a tiny fraction of the £14m provided by a separate government fund for assisting the Jewish community. Applications by 24 mosques failed.

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It’s in the Times.

Indigo Jo Blogs - 29 June, 2019 - 20:11

Last week a detailed report into three stories ‘researched’ and written by Andrew Norfolk, the Times’ chief investigative reporter, was published, all of which involved Islam or Muslims, painted them in the worst possible light and demonstrated negligence about making sure of basic facts. One was the notorious Muslim foster care case from August 2017, about which the report reveals that Norfolk was advised by an expert not to touch the story as the details “didn’t ring true” but published it anyway; the others involve a Muslim-run charity in Yorkshire called Just Yorkshire which closed as a result of an inaccurate story by Norfolk in the Times, and the rapist (of Pakistani origin) supposedly given visitation rights to the child he fathered with his victim, which was not true, but what was done was in keeping with official guidelines (right or wrong as these may be). The report, by journalists Brian Cathcart (also a professor at Kingston University in London) and Paddy French, can be found in PDF form here at the Hacking Inquiry website.

A front page from The Times, with the headline "Corbyn too frail to be PM, fears civil service".Today’s Times front page

Talking of stuff that doesn’t ring true … the same paper had a story in today’s edition in which unnamed civil servants are alleged to speculate that Jeremy Corbyn is likely to have to step down before very long for health reasons, that he is too frail to be Labour leader, let alone prime minister, and that he is being “propped up” by his inner circle. People who actually know him say he runs every day and cycles regularly. Corbyn is 70 years old and while that is certainly not young, it is not extremely old by today’s standards, it is a good 15 years short of average male life expectancy, and lots of people that age are not frail nowadays. The idea of his being a ‘stooge’ and that the real power will lie with advisors or other shadowy figures is a classic trope of fear-mongering about the Left; think of the suggestions that “union bosses” (really elected leaders) will enter 10 Downing Street by the back door and call the shots, as was routinely alleged during Neil Kinnock’s time as Labour leader. Civil servants are not allowed to openly make commentary about politics; they are supposed to be neutral and to serve whoever is in government.

I’ve made no secret of my reservations about Corbyn. But this is classic right-wing fear mongering from the Murdoch press. The biggest cause to doubt this story is the masthead it appears under. It’s in the Times, a paper notorious for shoddy or malicious reporting which uses its past reputation as a cover.

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My Jewish friend, your Asian friend

Indigo Jo Blogs - 28 June, 2019 - 18:00
A front page of the Spectator with the headline "Boris wants you! The former mayor talks to James Forsyth about Brexit, sovereignty and aubergines". It features a cartoon of Johnson pointing at the reader and wearing a "Vote Leave" cap. Other articles referred to include "The War on Trump by Jacob Heilbrunn" and "The death of Internet Freedom by Brendan O'Neill".“Boris wants you”: a previous adulatory front page from the Spectator about Boris Johnson and Brexit.

Yesterday I came across the outgoing edition of the Spectator at Smith’s and there were about four articles hymning Boris Johnson in anticipation of his crowning as prime minister, as was expected when it went to press. I thought it was the new edition, but that was on the shelves today and so I realised that those articles went to press before his row with his girlfriend became headline news. Today there was a little more of the same, including one from Conrad Black, former proprietor of the Telegraph group and the Spectator calling Max Hastings a ‘flake’ (despite his having employed him as editor of the Telegraph for nine years) and claiming he has more confidence in Boris Johnson than in Hastings, who is not running to be Tory leader or prime minister. But one of the articles, by James Forsyth, claimed that Johnson’s Britain would be a more liberal place than Theresa May’s and he airily dismissed fears about his racism and prejudice towards Muslims in a few short sentences. The piece does not seem to be on the website, so perhaps they thought better of it after last weekend’s news. But I’m sure the attitude is widespread.

The article referred to the incidences of racism as a few isolated sentences from his back catalogue and dismissed the idea that he is Islamophobic by mentioning Sajid Javid’s support for him. This last is a classic example of the “Black friend defence”, in which a person accused of racism falls back on having Black friends or on the support of one or two Black (or in this case Asian) supporters. Sajid Javid is in no way representative of Muslims, having risen to prominence in a party most British Muslims do not support, having a spouse who is not Muslim, having said that only one religion is practised in his household and it is not Islam. His right-wing White friends will of course never forget his origins, as we witnessed when others in the leadership race were invited to meet Donald Trump during his state visit and he was not; as an Asian friend of mine said, “they will never allow a P**i, even a ‘house’ one, to become leader”. We have to understand that anti-Asian racism is not the same as Islamophobia, which is prejudice against Islam itself or people understood to be Muslims, and Boris Johnson’s hostility was clearly in the latter category as clearly demonstrated during his editorship. As for the racist language, there were multiple incidents of it; it was not an isolated case of inappropriate language where the person responsible apologised. He was writing for a sympathetic audience which is more than willing to overlook the racism.

Also this week, the Derby North MP, Chris Williamson, was reinstated to the party (though this has now been overturned) having been suspended over numerous accusations of anti-Semitism; this action has led to widespread protests from Labour MPs, staff members and from people outside the party as well as sanctimonious condemnations from Tories whose party does much less than Labour does to keep much worse racists out. One of the more common accusations that has been made is that Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters rely too heavily on the support of left-wing, often secular Jews (though there are a minority of ultra-religious Jews who loudly oppose Zionism as well), and ignore the ‘mainstream’ religious Jews who are sympathetic to Zionism. These people will cast aspersions on the Jewishness of members of Jewish Voice for Labour and Jewdas (claiming that they have one Jewish ancestor generations ago, for example) and have made it clear that their approval is no defence against any charge of anti-Semitism when it comes from the ‘official’ voices of “real Jews”, even when these groups are either self-appointed or not fully elected (e.g. elected from synagogues that do not allow women to vote).

I’m well aware that Boris Johnson is not in the Labour party, but there are many who are willing to do whatever it takes to stop Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister even if it means getting Boris Johnson instead (or another Tory who will give him a cabinet post, until Johnson stabs him, the country or some hapless Brit abroad in the back again). There is a sense, rarely expressed openly, that anti-Semitism is a prejudice apart that does not bear comparison to any other form of racism; the reality is that, despite some differences in how anti-Semitism has manifested itself over the generations, any prejudice can lead to violence, oppression, mass murder and genocide. There does not even have to be any visible racial or religious difference. Displays of revulsion at anti-Semitism (and willingness to accept the dictates of the Jewish ‘mainstream’ as to what is anti-Semitism, which they will not when a mainstream Muslim group alleges, or tries to define, Islamophobia) are simply how white middle-class people who will often tolerate racism against visible minorities or policies with a racist effect persuade each other that they are not the worst kind of racist. The real reason is that Jews are an acceptable minority: white, Anglicised and not associated with poverty.

So, let’s be clear: if you will not let Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters fall back on their numerous Jewish friends or the years of service some of them have shown to their communities, including Jewish members, don’t insult us by reminding us that Boris Johnson has a Pakistani friend or that, say, Zac Goldsmith’s former brother-in-law is Imran Khan. If you don’t mind shaking hands with Narendra Modi, on whose watch Hindu fascists staged a re-run of Kristallnacht in Gujarat when he was state governor, resulting in thousands of Muslims being killed and on whose watch as Indian prime minister Indian Muslims have been lynched on the pretext of slaughtering cows, please don’t be pointing fingers at anyone dubiously accused of anti-Semitism. Many a racist has Black friends. Many a racist has had sex with a person not of their race, or produced children with them. A racist politician is not the same as an ordinary racist; it does not depend on personal prejudice but on a tendency to use prejudice for political advantage. Boris Johnson has amply demonstrated both, over pages and pages in the Telegraph and Spectator. If Jeremy Corbyn as PM turns your stomach but Johnson does not, it does not make you less of a racist, just a different type of racist.

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French city shuts down public pools after two women wear burkinis

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 June, 2019 - 17:00

Grenoble authorities say shutdown was requested by lifeguards at the pool

Despite the unprecedented heatwave sweeping across western Europe, lifeguards in Grenoble have shut down the city’s two municipal swimming pools after Muslim women went swimming in burkinis.

The women went to the pools twice at the initiative of the Alliance Citoyenne rights group to challenge a city ban on the full-body swimwear.

Related: Why we wear the burkini: five women on dressing modestly at the beach

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An Islamophobic security agenda shouldn't mix with arts funding | Naz Shah

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 June, 2019 - 17:02

Bradford literature festival speakers are right to withdraw in protest at Home Office funds. Muslims want meaningful engagement

  • Naz Shah is the MP for Bradford West

The last few days have seen a furore over the Bradford literature festival’s decision to accept funding from the Home Office. Some 12 speakers have pulled out of the event so far, in protest at the source of the money, the government’s “Building a Stronger Britain Together” fund, a scheme that supports projects that supposedly counter extremism. As a result of the row, reputational damage has been done to this award-winning festival.

Let’s be clear why this has happened: the government refuses to engage with Muslim communities in a meaningful way – unless it is under the auspices of counter- extremism or counter-terrorism. Why does funding offered to Muslim communities so often appear under this guise? We’ve also seen this in the form of the goverment’s terrible Prevent counter terror strategy, which is a toxic presence and is already under review.

Had this government cared, it would not continuously brush Tory Islamophobia under the carpet

Related: Does Bradford festival's counter-extremism funding warrant a boycott? | Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and Saima Mir

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Pakistan plays down accusations of Christian persecution

The Guardian World news: Islam - 25 June, 2019 - 14:02

Foreign minister says there are ‘individual incidents’ that can be compared to UK knife crime

Pakistan’s foreign minister has sought to dismiss accusations of Christian persecution, claiming there were “individual incidents” comparable to knife crime in the UK.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, speaking during a visit to Brussels, said reports of religious minorities being targeted in Pakistan did not constitute a trend and the recent claims of Christian persecution were an example of “western interests” that “want to paint Pakistan in a particular way”.

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Boris Johnson and the Stasi

Indigo Jo Blogs - 24 June, 2019 - 23:01
A front page of the Evening Standard, with the headline "Boris's show of unity" with a picture of Johnson and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds, sitting on wooden chairs in a garden looking at each other.Today’s Evening Standard, the London evening paper also known as the Evening Boris.

So, last weekend the story broke of a row between Boris Johnson, the man who looked until then as if he was certain to become the leader of the Tory party and Prime Minister, and his girlfriend at her house in south London, which was reported to the police and then taped by the neighbours and the recording sent to the Guardian. As I was on a delivery run to Kettering and Dartford last Saturday, I spent much of the day glued to Radio 4 which ran an interview with the author of a critical biography of Johnson, who had worked with him in Brussels and told us that he was notorious for his temper, and Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph who compared the neighbours to the Stasi, the former East German secret police. Over the weekend, Twitter was abuzz with two different narratives: one saying that many women have died because neighbours heard fights and other signs of abuse and did not call the police or otherwise intervene and that women have been saved because they did, and the other making Johnson out to be the victim of a politically-motivated action by nosy neighbours acting like self-appointed secret police and to take one example, from a pro-Brexit radio presenter:

I found the reference to the Stasi grotesquely inappropriate. The Stasi, like other secret police forces in other dictatorships, did not principally spy on their communist bosses but on ordinary people and particularly for any signs of dissent; it was an organ of the state and consisted of people employed by the state. Although it did use information sourced from ordinary people, it also relied on paid spies and informants and on people tempted by inducements and blackmail. What was reported in this case was not Boris Johnson using crass racial slurs, printing inflammatory nonsense about a minority community or expounding ridiculous theories about Britain’s place outside the EU; he does that in public, often in the same newspapers that have been backing him. It was a domestic argument that disturbed his neighbours and gave them concern for the welfare of his girlfriend, who (despite being of similar political mind to him) said things that ring true with many people: that he is selfish, spoiled, and unconcerned enough with money (because he’s never been short of it) that he thinks red wine on the sofa is no big deal.

Let’s not forget, the Tory press (and the smaller liberal tabloid press) have themselves behaved in a manner reminiscent of a secret police force over the years, relying on malicious stories, employing people to search people’s bins, using material from people who illegally access others’ voicemails, and using outright harassment with packs of reporters waiting outside people’s doors and following them down the street, such that people have sometimes had to be bundled into a car with a blanket over their head to avoid their demands. They ruin lives and end careers. Only a few weeks ago the Daily Mail ran a front-page story (and several pages inside) to an “expose” of Jeremy Corbyn filled with tittle-tattle about petty details of his private behaviour from so-called friends and maybe one of his ex-wives. If this is appropriate treatment for Corbyn, an incident of actual inconsiderate and possibly abusive behaviour from Johnson, who unlike Corbyn is likely to be appointed prime minister within a few weeks without a public vote, is just as much in the public interest. Come to think of it, another common feature of a dictatorship is a cowed or sycophantic press which is full of propaganda and this is exactly what the Daily Telegraph in particular looks like right now: one front page after another praising Boris Johnson, who has a high-profile weekly column, and attacking his critics.

I don’t think this incident would have become public knowledge if it were not for the fact that Johnson is likely to become prime minister without a public vote, and were not so obviously unfit for the job; if he had not displayed racism so repeatedly, if he had not sowed the seeds of discontent about the EU by fabricating stories while employed at the Telegraph, if he had not embarrassed this country repeatedly with his ridiculous remarks and exposed British citizens abroad to danger. His supporters seem at best absolutely blind to his faults and at worst they regard them as strengths, or as a sign of how powerful they are that they do not need to worry about pesky minorities that he has offended or, worse, endangered. The prevailing attitude among them seems to be: never mind the snowflakes. I even heard Vanessa Feltz today suggest that Johnson is the opposite of what Theresa May was accused of being, the “Maybot” always reading from the script and reciting stock phrases again and again; it was suggested that his “colourful” character inspires people rather than boring them. The Tories’ attitude to ordinary people was also prevalent in the assault by Mark Field on a Greenpeace activist who protested at a bankers’ and politicians’ banquet last Friday, which prompted a stream of Tory politicians to excuse an obviously unnecessary act of violence.

I don’t think that, politically, there is much to choose between Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson; they are both Brexiteers, open to a no-deal exit from the EU, and both slavishly devoted to the US president and willing to follow Trump into war with Iran. Johnson is just more openly racist, a proven liar, a philanderer and a man with zero diplomatic ability. After seeing the disaster with Trump I do not believe anyone should be taking chances by calling for people with a vote to vote for him in the hope that he will lose a general election, or his seat; we cannot guarantee that there are not enough Labour members with an “anyone but Corbyn” attitude or Labour Brexiteers fearful for their seats to keep him in office. This man is simply unfit for any position of public responsibility whatsoever; he should not even be an MP, let alone prime minister, and it sickens me that he has got away with so much while people have been expelled from the Labour party for things interpreted as anti-Semitism which are much milder than the things Johnson has come out with in mainstream journals again and again. So, well done to the people who leaked this to the Guardian. If the Tory party had not been about to foist this wretch on all of us, it would not have been necessary. As it is, the disaster may have been averted.

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