by Sid H Arthur - Religion & Race & Identity 29 Dec 2006 04:42 pm

Inclusive by Choice, Defensive by Nature

Perusing Amardeep Singh’s superb weblog, I found this write-up of a moving and illuminating essay posted on the Kafila blog by the writer and activist, Mahmood Farooqui - Walled away in faith’s defence.

Farooqui writes about a number of intertwining paradoxes: a secular, atheist Muslim living in a conservative Muslim mohalla (neighbourhood) of Delhi, the problem of minority belonging and the self-hatred that comes from being the ‘other’ in your own land, and the conditioning that forces Muslims to be defensive about their place in history and society.

Let me explain my locus. I am an atheist, I follow none of the Islamic taboos, but I live in a locality in the capital that can only be called a ghetto. I lived here for five years, when I was a student, when I was very self-consciously opposed to the Indian Muslim stereotype. I had grown up on Chandamama and Nandan, Holi was my favourite festival, Karna my hero, Shiva the great God, Hinduism a highly tolerant religion and I had dreams of attaining martyrdom fighting Pakistan. I was studying history and detested medieval Muslim rulers; I would expatiate on the reasons why Islam had trouble with modernity; I admired Naipaul and Rushdie; supported Mushirul Hasan during the Satanic Verses controversy — a novel I deeply admire in spite of its undoubted blasphemies — and I detested many things about Indian Muslims, except, predictably, Urdu literature and Sufism. I was, in short, a model Hinduised-Indian-Muslim, who always put India before Islam. I was desperate to leave Okhla.

But in opposition to the antagonism he feels coming from the mainstream, there are the loyalties towards his Muslim-ness that are Pavlovian in nature:

More than this, however, my views, in conformity with the rest of the academic world, about the virtues of egalitarianism, liberty and a democratic welfare state are now far less uncomplicated than they were in my youth. I still search for vestiges of the narrative of liberty in Islamic pasts, I continue to valourise streams of pluralism in Muslim sultanates and extol those Indian Muslims of the past who were ecumenical and tolerant. I would still challenge descriptions of the medieval past that underline forced conversions or bemoan the second-class treatment of Hindus. If I do not have much truck with Islam, why then do I continue to search for narratives of tolerance in the Islamic past? Why do I smart when Vajpayee says that there is trouble and violence wherever Muslims live? Why is my attitude to Islam so defensive?

Farooqui manages to pinpoint the perplexities felt by Muslims or at least those keenly felt by the more reflexive amongst us. In fact, he might as well have written an essay on the roots of the South Asian Muslim condition here, I know that for a fact.

I am eager to tell the world that Muslims of the past were different, as they indeed were, but the hidden presumption is that the current Indian Muslims are a fallen lot, in need of reform. We are not entirely sure whether it is they or Islam itself that needs reform, but we are absolutely certain that reform is needed. The West is reformation itself, Christianity has been protestantised, Hinduism has been reformed by the State, but Islam we have been trying to reform for the last 150 years and have been on the defensive for as long as well.

There are no answers to these presumptions offered by Farooqui, only insights into the paradoxes. But insight is the rarest commodity amongst Muslims today. His article should really be read in full.

by Sid H Arthur - Terrorism 28 Dec 2006 02:48 pm

Bum Rush the Terror Threat

Remember Rashid Rauf? Probably not. He was arrested in Pakistan in connection with the ‘Liquid Explosives’ terror plot in August 2006, and was extradited to the UK on suspicion of coordinating a plot, on behalf of al-Qaeda, to blow up transatlantic airlines.

Here is the timeline of events, to refresh your memory. Note that it begins with the Joint Terrorism Assessment Centre upgrading the UK security threat level to “critical” - the highest level meaning an attack is imminent. Followed by the Home Secretary John Reid announcment that the terror threat was “a very significant one indeed” delivered in his characteristic hard-man snarl.

The events saw massive disruption to transatlantic airline traffic, planes were diverted and schedules were trashed. A total of 24 people were arrested, remanded in custody and charged under the Terrorism Act. Pakistan, eager to be seen as standing shoulder to shoulder with USA and the UK in their war against terrorism, was active in charging Rauf and another man on suspicion of these charges.

Not so well publicised was the news earlier this month that charges against Rashid Rauf were dropped. Of the 24 original arrests in Britain, only eleven have been charged and their involvement in the plot has yet to be proven.

This ‘power of nightmares’ scenario is the subject of this article, by Matthew Carr, which asks on what evidence the British and Pakistani governments based their assumption that Rauf was the point-man as well as other pointed questions.

Was the plot the result of the kind of western intelligence blundering and incompetence that we have seen so often during the War on Terror? Was it conjured up by agents provocateurs in Pakistan in order to boost the Musharaf government’s anti-terrorist credentials? Or was the plot deliberately misrepresented and exaggerated in order to mobilise support for the ongoing state of emergency which our leaders had declared to be inevitable?

The answers to these questions are unlikely to come from a discredited prime minister or his security chief, who has just announced her surprising resignation. But we need to get them from someone, otherwise we may be in even deeper trouble than we realise.

by Sid H Arthur - Events & Race & Identity 27 Dec 2006 12:37 pm

Clash of Civilisations Conference

A special one-day conference organised by the GLA, will be held in London on Saturday 20 January.

I’ll be going, if only to lend support to Mayor Ken in the debate with “leading anti-Muslim hate propagandist”, Daniel Pipes.

The conference will feature a debate between the Mayor and Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum, an American think tank that advises US policymakers on the Middle East. He has argued that ‘there is not so much a clash of civilisations as there is one of civilisations vs. barbarism.’

by Sid H Arthur - Pop Life 26 Dec 2006 08:08 pm

More God than Godfather

James Brown, the ‘Godfather of Soul’, ‘Hardest Working Man in Show Business’, multi-million-unit-selling crossover genius, most sampled artist of all time and originator of Funk as a bona fide musical genre, died on Monday 25 December, aged 73. Inna lilahi wa inna ilahi raji’un.

Obituary.

James Brown (1933 - 2006)

by Sid H Arthur - Religion & Politics & Middle East 17 Dec 2006 03:13 pm

Brown Man’s Burden?

Ali Eteraz is “severely hurt” by Western Muslim attitudes to Iraqi insurgency. Best let him explain his pain himself, from a post entitled Western Muslim Opinion On The War in Iraq:

I have to say, I am severely hurt by what Islam has become in Iraq. In fact, to say that this blatant murdering of civilians by the militants contains any remnants of Islam, is difficult if not impossible. The Islam of the Sunni militants is a theology of anarchy which has no respect for the rules of war, or the values of Islam. The Shi’a themselves are no less. Islam does not stand for total war, but the Sunni and Shi’a militants violate that prescription almost regularly (to the tune of thousands of murders of average Iraqi civilians). We Western Muslims can oppose the American occupation, but we also have to oppose the way the insurgents are brutalizing and defilling life and human dignity.

As someone who falls into the category of “Western Muslim” myself, I feel compelled to disagree with this nonsense. Not because the inhumanity of Iraqi insurgents doesn’t make me sick to the stomach but because Eteraz’s post is symptomatic of this widespread notion that suggests that Muslims (and Muslims specifically) who don’t oppose the sectarian violence in Iraq are a priori supporters of insurgents because they are “anti-USA” or are hardwired to view the conflict in terms of the oldest Islamic internecine dispute of them all: Sunni vs Shi’a.

There are other Muslim “readings” of the insurgency out there, believe it or not. A far more mature and reasoned ‘warts and all’ explanation of the insurgency and the sectarianism which begets it, which we now call “Civil war in Iraq”, can be found in this post by Mash of OHILTSW. Another Western Muslim, who, whilst he’s at it, does a good job of avoiding the silly strawman trap set by Eteraz:

The killing in Iraq right now has very little to do with “resistance” to the occupier. The killing of Shia by Sunnis is not meant to drive the Americans out of Iraq. The American presence in Iraq currently is almost irrelevant. The American invasion and occupation was the catalyst for the civil war, and to that end, it has succeeded spectacularly in destroying civil society in Iraq.

There are a number of conflicts going on in Iraq. There is first the sectarian civil war between the Shia and Sunni Arab communities. There is the struggle for Kirkuk taking place between the Iraqi Arabs and the Kurds (this in many ways is the most intractable of the conflicts facing Iraq). There is a fight emerging between the multiple factions within the Shia community - this is the bloody struggle between the Sadrists and the SCIRI. The government of al Maliki will be a casualty of the battle within the Shia community. There is an Iraqi nationalist insurgency going on against the Americans. And lastly, there is a battle between foreign Islamists and the American forces in Iraq. So, when Iraqis butcher Iraqi, they are settling their own scores - they are not killing Iraqis to expel the Americans. Only people like Dick Cheney in their narcissistic existence believe that Iraqis kill each other because they don’t like him or his boss.

[…]

So, in modern day Iraq, the fight between the Shia and the Sunni once again is over political power. To put it crudely, the dispute is over which tribe should rule Iraq after Saddam Hussein. The unresolved tribal dispute that has its origins in Islamic history, continues to rage in Iraq now that civil society has collapsed. In this fight, George W Bush’s “War on Terror” is irrelevant.

by Sid H Arthur - Middle East 17 Dec 2006 03:08 pm

Iraq: International Spillover

In this post on her blog, author Laila Lalami recognises the international players who will use Iraq as the battleground to fight the war along the lines of the deepest Islamic schism of them all: that of Sunni and Shi’i.

So now it’s official. The government of Saudi Arabia told Dick Cheney that it will arm Sunni militias if the U.S. leaves Iraq. Last July, you’ll remember, Saudi Arabia blamed Israel’s invasion of Lebanon entirely on Hizbollah, while Olmert referred-with no detectable irony-to the Kingdom as a “moderate Arab state.” Which means we’re seeing a very clear alignment: Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Israel, Fatah, and Saniora’s government on one side, and Iran, Hamas, Hizbollah, and maybe Syria on the other side. I just want to hide under a blanket and go to sleep.

So that’s the fallout of the Iraq war, ladies and gentlemen. Can you hear the sound of sa. Abu Bakr and sa. Ali turning in their graves?

by Sid H Arthur - Race & Identity 17 Dec 2006 03:05 pm

Double Inconsistency

The new Prospect has Aziz Huq’s review of two new books (Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma and Breeding Bin Ladens by Zachary Shore) which deal with the short history of Muslim radicalisation in Europe. Huq presents a polemic-free analysis of the depressing ironies and inconsistencies of the fundamentalisms of both sides - secular and religious.

One such irony: The ideal of “free speech” for the Dutch is rooted in the late nineteenth century tradition of scheldkritten, or “abusive criticism.” The virulent polemicist van Gogh, whose ugly anti-Semitic comments and racist remarks about Muslims should not be reprinted here, fed on this tradition. And yet the very people championing this “free speech” tradition, and van Gogh’s place in it, turn out to be the country’s most vigorous advocates of conformity — and hence silence — for Muslims.

And as for the other side, Huq rightly justifies Shores’ analysis of the intemperrate, disproportionate and ridiculous reaction of Muslims to what they perceive as mortal insults to religious pride.

To understand that alienation, racism, and the deprivation of opportunity is the soil in which violent radicalism might grow is not the same as justifying or condoning violence. People who are wronged can, and often do, commit even greater wrongs in their misguided efforts at revenge. Indeed, perceived incidents of anti-Muslim bias in Europe often trigger reactions among Muslims that are far more hateful, bigoted and stupid than the initial incident.

Read Aziz Huq’s excellent article.

by Sid H Arthur - Terrorism 14 Dec 2006 04:14 pm

Dropping the TWAT

The Foreign Office has unveiled guidelines that advise cabinet ministers to drop the phrase ‘the war against terror’ or TWAT, if you’re looking for a cheap gag. The reason given for the decision is because the phrase is liable to “anger British Muslims and increase tensions more broadly in the Islamic World”.

The shift marks a turning point in British political thinking about the strategy against extremism and underlines the growing gulf between the British and American approaches to the continuing problem of radical Islamic militancy. It comes amid increasingly evident disagreements between President George Bush and Tony Blair over policy in the Middle East.

Does the Foreign Office really believe dropping this phrase will diffuse British Muslim anger and broadly decrease tensions in the Islamic World? Maybe in the next world baby.

Who in the Foreign Office comes up with this chicanery? This, the same FO who, back in 2003, supplied Bush, Blair and Cheney the “intelligence” that Southern Iraqis would be showering the invading Coalition forces with…flowers. What a bunch of TWATs.

by Sid H Arthur - Race & Identity 12 Dec 2006 03:13 pm

Talking Race

Sometimes a comic strip is worth a thousand blog posts:

Hat tip: Katy

by Sid H Arthur - Politics & Eng Lit 10 Dec 2006 07:44 pm

The Three Conceits

From the newly re-commerced (”giving it away for free”) New Statesman comes Ziauddin Sardar’s polemical lambast of three celebrated British writers: Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. Sardar gets so excercised about the domination these writers purportedly hold over the British literary landscape that he gives them a dodgy neologism (”Blitcons”) because “the vanguard of British literary neoconservatives” is too much of a mouthful .

Blitcons come with a ready-made nostrum for the human condition. They use their celebrity status to advance a clear global political agenda. For all their concern with the plight of the post-9/11 century, they do not offer a radical new outlook on the world. Their writing stands within a tradition, upholding ideas with deep roots in European consciousness and literature.

Well OK, quite an interesting piece overall. But Sardar’s hectoring tone was unnecessary and given his usual thoughtfulness and his powers of analysis, I was appalled by how the terms ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Neoconservatism’ and their meanings were interchanged with such laziness, and often incorrectly, to decontextualise personalities and ideas that don’t deserve to be maligned in such a way. I don’t think Rushdie subscribes to the ideas of Neoconservatism whereas McEwan most certainly does. Martin Amis on the other hand has never been very successful with formulating political ideas into his novels in the past and his essays exploring Islamist Terrorism do not make him a Neoconservative. Furthermore, I don’t think any of these writers are particularly Islamophobic, except perhaps Rushdie, but then he has reason to be.

My biggest question about Sardar’s article is in the subtitle. Do these three writers actually dominate British Literature?

One writer who can be called an unapologetic Islamophobe with complete validity is VS Naipaul. Naipaul is the only giant on the ‘British literary landscape’ and makes Sardar’s triumverate look like a trio of juggling pygmies. Why does Naipaul not qualify as a Blitcon? Could it be because having a brown person be a Blitcon would break Sardar’s silly thesis? Or could it be because Naipaul is the best living writer in English in the world today. Naipaul has never put a foot wrong although publishing not one but two anti-Muslim travellogues may have exposed a little too much of his fangs.

Martin Amis hasn’t written a good novel since Time’s Arrow and thats going back some fifteen years now. His last non-fiction work (Koba the Dread) was roundly criticised with a venom that only old friends can muster. Amis is the archetypal upper middle class literary toff, complete with yellow teeth and dress shirts with pressed jeans, and has benefited from standing on the shoulders of another literary giant (his father) for longer than can be called healthy. He now represents the dreary image of the writer bereft of an idea but with bags of personal bitterness to plumb.

Back in the 80s Rushdie was dubbed a Champaign Socialist and was part of the intelligentsia behind the social marketing machinery that brought us “Multiculturalism”. Rushdie was a hero figure for me then but nowadays he’s a cheesy celebrity, more famous for being a “transatlantic party animal” than the “most promising British writer of his generation”. The more his genius atrophies the more Rushdie’s celebrityhood ascends but, hey, he does get to play Twister ® with Kylie and Dani Minogue. Personally, I’m thinking of pitching an idea to a TV exec of having a “reality-sitcom” called Salman about life as a short fat international literateur. And get this, the Salman character will be played by Salman Rushdie himself! Rushdie has written some breathtaking prose but he hasn’t delivered anything that comes close to the flights of singular brilliance found in The Satanic Verses (1989). Everything since has been shite. Having a beautiful young Indian wife helps but doesn’t fully disguise the encroaching look of a moribund halal butcher. And it doesn’t surprise me at all that he counts amongst his associates other self-exalting pricks just like himself.

As for Mr McEwan, he is easily the best of the three writers on Sardar’s list. Saturday is a political novel about a man aligining himself with the pro-Iraq War position. This could be defined as support of Neoconsertavism, insofar as definitions go, but in the context of Britain, it means supporting Blair’s War. When it was published, it elicited much attention from the exponents of the Prowar Left. The same Prowar Left who now make no mention of the Iraq War, or are busy distancing themselves from it or now claim to have been against the War all along. Goalposts have always been shiftable with the Pro Iraq War contingent. But once you’ve been published, goalpost shifting is a canny privelege neither Mr Henry Perowne, the main protaganist in Saturday, nor Ian McEwan can utilise.

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