Bradford Man Admits Killing Ahmadi Shopkeeper

Police on Minard Road, Shawlands, Glasgow, investigating the death of popular shop keeper Asad Shah following an incident at his shop. March 25, 2016. See SWNS story SWMUSLIM; A popular Muslim shopkeeper has been stabbed to death in the street - just four hours after wishing "a very happy Easter to my beloved Christian nation". Peace-loving Asad Shah, 40, was set upon with a knife and had his head stamped on in a shocking attack outside his Glasgow newsagents shop just after 9pm last night (Thurs). The appalling attack came just hours after deeply religious Mr Shah, who was keen to reach out from the Muslim community to Christian neighbours, posted heartfelt Easter messages on social media. And the messages revealed that he was today (Friday) due to be hosting a Google hangout with Christian friends about the importance of Easter.

Various news outlets including the BBC are reporting that Tanveer Ahmed, 32 – the Bradford man arrested and charged with murdering the Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah – has admitted killing him for allegedly “disrespecting” Islam.

Ahmed’s lawyer, John Rafferty, said that his client had instructed him to release the following statement:

My client Mr Tanveer Ahmed has specifically instructed me that today, 6 April 2016, to issue this statement to the press, the statement is in the words of my client.

“This all happened for one reason and no other issues and no other intentions.

“Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet.

“When 1400 years ago the Prophet of Islam Muhammad peace be upon him has clearly said that ‘I am the final messenger of Allah there is no more prophets or messengers from God Allah after me.

“‘I am leaving you the final Quran. There is no changes. It is the final book of Allah and this is the final completion of Islam. There is no more changes to it and no one has the right to claim to be a Prophet or to change the Quran or change Islam.’

“It is mentioned in the Quran that there is no doubt in this book no one has the right to disrespect the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and no one has the right to disrespect the Prophet of Islam Muhammad Peace be upon him.

“If I had not done this others would and there would have been more killing and violence in the world.

“I wish to make it clear that the incident was nothing at all to do with Christianity or any other religious beliefs even although I am a follower of the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him I also love and respect Jesus Christ.”

It is a truly horrifying statement.

The murdered man, Asad Shah, was an Ahmadi – a sect which believes that a 19th century Indian religious teacher called Mirza Ghulam Ahmed, was a prophet. Ahmadis are routinely persecuted in Pakistan. To find evidence that the scourge of that same vile sectarianism that has so riven Pakistan now arising in the UK, is frightening.

There has long been a problem with almost all modern interpretations of Islam and the concept of freedom of speech. The Salman Rushdie Affair demonstrated just how much of a problem many Muslims still have with freedom. Often it is argued away by saying “We believe in freedom but not the freedom to insult religion.” But that is a nonsense – freedom of expression has to include the right to say things which others might find very distasteful about religion, otherwise it is hardly freedom. That is the only way a world which contains followers of so many different religions can function. That is a key lesson of the Enlightenment – which sadly has yet to cast its light on much of the Muslim world.

People are free to regard Ahmadis as being non-Muslims – that is their right. To persecute them on that account, however, is just revolting.

One can only hope that those who are prepared to use this kind of violence to try and intimidate others who disagree with their beliefs are brought to justice before they can commit their awful crimes and that they are given a very long prison sentence indeed where they can coolly reflect on their interpretation of religion and the harm it can cause others.

Posted in Extremism, Islam | Tagged , | 7 Comments

The Sun Forced To Apologise Over “1 in 5 British Muslims Support ISIS” Claim

TheSun_23Nov15

Congratulations to the Muslim advocacy group MEND for complaining to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) about last year’s appalling headline in The Sun and getting their complaint upheld today.  The official IPSO ruling about the MEND complaint can be read here.

On 23 Nov 2015, The Sun printed a front page story in which they claimed that a poll they had commissioned found that:

“…nearly one in five British Muslims has some sympathy with those who had fled the UK to fight for IS [so-called Islamic State] in Syria.”

The Sun’s story was clearly bogus and designed to stir up incitement against British Muslims.

The Sun has been forced to print IPSO’s ruling today – it appears on page 2 and can be read in full here.

IPSO is still not a press regulator with teeth though.  The original Sun headline appeared on the front page. IPSO should have insisted that The Sun’s apology was printed on the front page too.

[Btw, you were all looking at The Sun headline in the above pic, and not the top right hand corner, right?]

Posted in islamophobia | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

BBC R4’s Moral Maze – The ISIS Problem

Moral Maze

Yesterday evening, I took part in a discussion about the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Radio 4’s Moral Maze programme. The episode can be heard in full here.

I mentioned that in light of the pledge by the so-called Islamic State to continue to carry out more atrocities in European countries that European Muslims had a special responsibility to be extra vigilant and assist the authorities wherever possible to prevent those attacks. This might seem unfair – after all, why should European Muslims have a special responsibility to prevent the attacks when the overwhelming majority of them are appalled by the actions of the terrorists? Even so, it is quite likely that the closest associates, friends and family members of the ISIS terrorists are Muslims. They may well be better placed than most of the rest of the population in identifying worrying changes in attitudes and motivations on the part of those who have been seduced by the message of the extremists.

During the discussion, Claire Fox insisted that Islam should not be above criticism and critics should not be labelled Islamophobes for doing so. I wonder if most Muslims would agree with her. I responded by saying that no idea, including Islam, should be above criticism. The point, I think, is worth underlining. The scientific revolution in Europe and the Enlightenment have led to spectacular progress in recent centuries and this has been in very large part because no idea was held to be above criticism. It is only by allowing all ideas to be continually exposed to criticism that we can hope to improve our ideas about the world and identify misconceptions. Regrettably, this is not the case in most Muslim societies across the world, where many ideas, particularly those involving the place of religion and religious beliefs are held to be above criticism, and those who dare to question them are all too quickly branded as deviants or heretics.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable experience taking part in the show and I particularly enjoyed annoying Melanie Phillips once again.

Posted in Extremism, Islam, islamophobia | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Responding To The ISIS Threat

Brussels

In the wake of today’s terror attacks in Brussels, ISIS have issued a statement saying:

“We promise to the states that are allied against the Islamic State that they will face dark days in return for their aggression against our state. And what will await you will become harder and more bitter through the grace of Allah.”

So, just as a number of nations, including European ones, are engaged in bombing ISIS positions in Syria and Iraq, ISIS make clear that they intend to bomb them in return. Just a few days ago it was Istanbul that was the target of ISIS bombs. More bombs. More terrifying screams. More children left orphaned.

There must be a way out of this. “All problems are soluble,” claims the physicist and philosopher David Deutsch, in his book The Beginning of Infinity.

Why would young men want to join ISIS in the first place? And what would convince presumably sane individuals that killing civilians indiscriminately is somehow a laudable act? Has the bombing campaign against ISIS positions brought peace closer or made us even more vulnerable to terrorism?

It seems clear that ISIS bombers genuinely believe that their terrorist attacks constitute part of a just struggle against their enemies. How that can be so is incredible to most of us living in the West.

Sadly, the legacy of the misbegotten Iraq war has left us with more chaos than ever in the region and a terrible threat that may take us decades to fully deal with.

I wrote a few months back that I was not at all convinced by David Cameron’s argument that bombing ISIS positions would make us safer.

To really pull the rug out from under the feet of ISIS and other terrorist groups, we could do worse than totally disengage militarily from all parts of the Middle East and restrict ourselves to responding economically to problems in the region.

In addition, imposing an economic blockade on Israel until it withdraws from the occupied Palestinian territories and dismantles its illegal Jewish settlements, would not only be the morally right thing to do but also a hugely popular one worldwide and would surely help undermine the noxious narrative of terrorist groups in the region.

ISIS and their ilk can offer no real future to Muslims in the region. Their blinkered and fanatical outlook can only prolong the misery of Muslims. They offer the polar opposite to what most Muslims desire: a stable, tolerant and non-interfering state, educational opportunities for their children (including girls), and rewarding jobs to look forward to.

In short, less war and more of a focus on helping people in the region economically and through better education, has to be a more promising way forward.

Posted in Extremism, Government | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Shameful Smearing of Sadiq Khan MP

sadiq-khan

We are less than three months away from London’s Mayoral election to be held on 5th May 2016 and it should come as no surprise that the front runner, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, is being targeted by the right-wing press.

Earlier today, the London Evening Standard, published an article ostensibly about Sadiq Khan headlined “Exposed: Sadiq Khan’s family links to extremist organisation”. What it actually exposed was the Evening Standard’s determination to smear Sadiq in much the same way it systematically campaigned a few years back against Ken Livingstone to make way for the right-leaning Boris Johnson.

Today’s story focuses on Sadiq’s former brother-in-law, Makbool Javaid (he was previously married to Sadiq’s sister, Farhat), who like Sadiq is also a lawyer by training. The Evening Standard tries to highlight Makbool Javaid as a hate-spewing extremist and hopes that at least some of the dirt that it throws will conveniently land on Sadiq Khan.

As it happens I have met Makbool on several occasions and there is no question that back in the 1990’s he was known to be sympathetic to the views of al-Muhajiroun (Omar Bakri’s band of loony Khilafah-seeking activists). It is also true that by the time I met him again a decade later he had already very clearly begun to moderate his views.

It is only much lower down the Evening Standard article that they actually get round to quoting Makbool Javaid’s current and far more sensible views where he says:

“Of course I regret the speech I gave and some of the things I said and did in my younger years.

“Twenty years ago I was naive. I certainly didn’t realise how easily some of my actions could be interpreted as being critical of Britain — the best country in the world.

“This was nearly two decades ago now and I have grown and changed. I love Britain, I love the rich diversity of London and I love our culture.”

That sounds very much like the Makbool Javaid that I last met a few years ago.

The story of Sadiq Khan should be an immensely inspirational one. The son of a London bus driver, he lived in a council flat in South London and indeed was sleeping in a bunk bed until he was 24. He went to university and trained as a lawyer and became a human rights campaigner. And then in 2005 he was elected as the MP for Tooting, his hometown. Now, just over ten years later, he has a very good chance of becoming Mayor of the UK’s most influential city. It is a fabulous story that serves to highlight the very best of Britain. The opportunity, the hard work, the anti-discrimination and the ever reducing number of glass ceilings. It is a narrative that deserves to be trumpeted loudly, especially to younger Muslims, to help encourage them and to counter the skewed negative propaganda of nihilist outfits like ISIS.

The London Evening Standard did all Londoners a massive disservice today.

 

Posted in Extremism, islamophobia | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

R4 Moral Maze on ‘Islamic Terrorism’

Moral Maze

In the wake of last week’s killings in Paris, I was on Radio 4’s Moral Maze programme (it can be heard by clicking on the previous link) this evening on the topic of “Islamic Terrorism” (yes, I don’t like the title either).

Those of you who have listened to Moral Maze previously will know that each guest faces a grilling from two of the four regular panellists. I faced a grilling from Anne McElvoy of the Economist (she was previously at the Evening Standard) and Michael Portillo.

I used the encounter to criticise the nihilists of ISIS and also the Western warmongers who keep insisting on dropping bombs on the people of the Middle East and then expect no response in return.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Book Review: Brief Candle In The Dark by Richard Dawkins

bcd

Here’s a proud confession. I have all of Richard Dawkins’s 11 science books (or 10 if we are strict and discount the massive best seller The God Delusion) on my bookshelves and have read them all. He certainly arouses strong feelings in others, both positive and negative, but without question, he cannot and should not be ignored.

I have written elsewhere of how in my younger days my eyes were opened to the wonders of science – thanks in no small part to the books of Richard Dawkins – and my dismay at the realisation concerning the ignorant claptrap about science and especially evolution that I had hitherto imbibed from Muslim religious figures.

In this second of his two part autobiography (the first part was 2013’s An Appetite for Wonder), Dawkins says:

…I dare to hope that my books, starting with The Selfish Gene in 1976, are among those that have changed the cultural landscape, along with the works of Stephen Hawking, Peter Atkins, Carl Sagan, Edward O. Wilson, Steve Jones, Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Pinker, Richard Fortey, Lawrence Krauss, Daniel Kahneman, Helena Cronin, Daniel Dennett, Brian Greene, the two M. Ridleys (Mark and Matt)… (p7)

If Dawkins sounds a bit arrogant here then we ought to remember (and as Dawkins himself says about the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA James Watson) that he has a lot to be arrogant about. As former Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, Dawkins regularly took to print and to the airwaves to champion science and to ridicule what he regarded as unsupportable superstition. The targets of his criticism included the poor state of science teaching in some Muslim faith schools.

One of my most memorable encounters was being on the same team as the above-mentioned Professor Steve Jones and Matt Ridley on BBC1’s Big Questions (YouTube video here) as we debated the truth of evolution with some religious deniers.

In this autobiography, Dawkins accepts that he can perhaps come across as being almost too bullish about science, but in his defence recounts a funny anecdote to show that he is not alone.

A former and highly successful editor of New Scientist magazine – he actually built up New Scientist to great heights – was asked: ‘What is your philosophy at New Scientist?’ He said, ‘Our philosophy in New Scientist is this: science is interesting, and if you don’t agree you can fuck off.’ (p262)

Naturally the targets of his ire – often followers of the main world religions maybe do not see it this way. Is Dawkins being unfair? Let’s take a more detailed look at the observations he makes in this autobiography regarding Christianity and Islam and see for ourselves.

First Christianity:

I have tried but consistently failed to find anything in theology to be serious about. I certainly take professors of theology seriously when they use their expertise to do things other than theology: jigsaw the fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls, for instance; or minutely compare Hebrew and Greek texts of scriptures, or sleuth out the lost sources of the four gospels and the other gospels that didn’t make it into the canon. That’s all genuine scholarship, fascinating to read and deserving of respect. It’s even true that historians need to study theological logic-chopping in order to understand the disputes and wars that have stained European history, for example the English Civil Wars. But the vacuous deepities (Dan Dennett’s splendid word) of ‘apophatic theology’ (Karen Armstrong’s obscurantist smokescreen), or the expenditure of precious time arguing with other theologians over the precise ‘significance for us today’ of Original Sin, Transubstantiation, the Immaculate Conception, or the ‘mystery’ (sorry, ‘Mystery’) of the Trinity, none of that is scholarship in any respectable sense of the word, and it should have no place in our universities. (p177-8)

Dawkins does appear to have a fair point here. After all, can we really justify university money – subsidised by taxpayers – being spent on such studies?

Later in the book, Dawkins draws our attention to a passage from the autobiography of his hero, Charles Darwin. Beginning by noting that “Darwin, as a young man, was a devout believer, destined for a career in the church”, Dawkins shares with us Darwin’s own words later in life in which he said he could:

…hardly see how anyone ought to wish Christianity to be true; for if so the plain language of the text seems to show that the men who do not believe, and this would include my Father, Brother and almost all my best friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable doctrine. (p253)

Again, the words are very strong, but are they really unfair?

And here is Dawkins on today’s Muslims. He is at a dinner hosted by the former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks with some of London’s leading Jews:

It was at that dinner that I learned the stunning fact that Jews, who constitute less than 1 per cent of the world’s population, have won more than 20 per cent of all Nobel Prizes. This makes a poignant contrast with the derisorily low success rate of the world’s Muslims, who are orders of magnitude more numerous in the world. I thought – still do – the comparison revealing…how could it not be revealing that one of them has a success rate per head which is literally tens of thousands of times higher than the other, in the fields of intellectual endeavour celebrated by Nobel? Islamic scholars were notable for keeping the flame of Greek learning alive during the middle ages and dark ages of Christendom. What went wrong? (p249)

What indeed? The words may be uncomfortable for Muslims to listen to, but they are surely worth reflecting upon with an open mind.

Back in 2010, Dawkins was one of the co-presenters (along with Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough, James Dyson, Robert Winston and others) of the marvellous five part Channel Four series, The Genius of Britain. The series (which oddly is not mentioned in this autobiography) took a look at the British scientists who kick started the scientific revolution in the UK and which was subsequently exported to much of the world. It noted how 500 years ago, Britain was still very much in a state of darkness where ‘witches’ were still being hunted and burnt. These scientists, beginning with the 17th century giants Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Edmund Halley and Isaac Newton dared to ask questions about the workings of nature and were allowed the space to continue their research and experiments unhindered by the state. This contributed to an explosive growth in our knowledge and understanding and in due course would lead to the development of the theories of gravity, evolution and the Big Bang which underpin our current understanding of how the universe works. It would lead to practical benefits such as inoculation and vaccination which would prevent millions of needless deaths across the world. It would usher in the technological age which has brought us the PC, the internet and the dazzling new useful gadgets that are being invented every week.

The title of Dawkins’s autobiography is “Brief Candle in the Dark” which is a nod to the great American astronomer and scientist Carl Sagan who talked about “science as a candle in the dark.”

Long may this particular flame shine a light for all of us.

 

Posted in Books, Islam, Science & Evolution | Tagged , , | 4 Comments