British Muslims and the IS Blame Game

blamegame

It is an incredible and baffling story. Why would three UK Muslim mothers take their nine children away from Britain and to live in war-torn Syria? Admittedly, their home town was Bradford, but nevertheless!

The Prime Minister David Cameron, urged everyone not to play the blame game and then – ironically – promptly blamed a section of British Muslims for “quietly condoning” IS and urged British Muslims to do more to confront the propaganda of the extremists.

This evening, we now learn that the solicitors for the family are accusing the police of being “complicit” in the radicalisation of the three women by allegedly encouraging them to contact their brother who had already travelled to Syria. More blame.

A couple of days ago, Myriam Francois Cerrah, in an otherwise typically thoughtful piece, blamed “government failings” in allowing the Bradford mothers to leave the UK despite what was known about their brother. For once, it is difficult not to sympathise with the authorities. They get criticised for being too intrusive and heavy-handed in their dealings with UK Muslims, and now for not being intrusive enough and granting the mothers too much freedom.

Ultimately, only the three mothers themselves can tell us about their motivations for leaving the UK for Syria with all the danger that entails for them, their children and their future. I do hope that we will hear from them, not only to better understand this tragic story but perhaps to be able to help others.

Posted in Extremism, Government, Islam | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

Video: Mass Brawl at Bangladeshi Meeting in Leeds

Some members of the Bangladeshi community in Leeds showing us all how to deal with community disagreements in a peaceful and tolerant manner.

This was apparently filmed yesterday during an Annual General Meeting which allegedly saw two rival camps disagreeing about who should run their community centre.

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Carl Sagan and the Pale Blue Dot

solar_system

The above image is taken from a presentation that the American astronomer Carl Sagan gave during the Gifford Lectures in October 1985 at Edinburgh University. That collection of lectures is available in book format as The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Let Carl himself explain the point he was making by including this in his presentation:

CS_solar_system

Carl Sagan achieved global fame with his immensely popular thirteen-part series Cosmos broadcast in 1980. Over the past year I have been catching up with several of his books including Cosmos, Billions and Billions, The Demon-Haunted World and, of course, The Varieties of Scientific Experience. His science writing is an absolute joy to read and he succeeds so well in instilling in the reader an immense sense of awe and wonder at our own place in the universe.

Before he died prematurely in 1996, he published “Pale Blue Dot“. It contains perhaps the most well known passage from his writings. Carl Sagan was involved in many NASA missions, and in February 1990 he made a suggestion to NASA. The Voyager 1 spacecraft had come to the end of its mission of photographing some of the outer planets and was now past Neptune and was six billion kilometres from the Earth (over 40 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun). Carl asked NASA to programme Voyager 1 to turn its camera around and point it towards the Earth for one final picture.

CS_pale_blue_dot

And below you can hear Carl  Sagan narrate that beautiful passage himself.

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My Top Ten Books of All Time

top10

Everyone enjoys top ten lists, right? So, here it is. My very own list of the Top Ten books that have most influenced me and contributed towards shaping my outlook. I didn’t want it all to look too narcissistic so have decided to limit my comments on each book to a single sentence explaining why I was so taken by the book.

Please do add your own all time favourite book recommendations along with the reasons why in the comments section below!

1. The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch

the beginning of infinity
A compellingly argued paean to the scientific method and the Enlightenment as our best means of overcoming the inevitable obstacles that humankind faces and will inevitably continue to face in the future.
2. Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth R. Miller

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Played a key role in convincing me of the truth of evolution and highlighting the ignorance and indeed sheer stupidity of those who are in denial about Darwin’s tremendous achievement.

 

3. The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski

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Accompanying the landmark 1973 BBC television series, this book is an inspiring celebration of the numerous peaks that humankind has crossed on its way to modern civilisation.

 

4. Muhammad at Mecca/Muhammad at Medina by W. Montgomery Watt

muhammad_at_mecca
Many Muslim-authored biographies of the Prophet Muhammad suffer from being too hagiographical, while Watt’s two- volume book appears to be fair and balanced in comparison.

 

5. The Qur’an Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali

The_Quran
Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation and particularly his extensive and erudite commentary is a continual pleasure to read and learn from. (Note: This refers to the original Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation and commentary, not the “Revised” translation and commentary by the Saudi-financed shit-heads that butchered his work as it offended their Salafi ideology).

 

6. Who Needs An Islamic State? by Abdulwahab el-Affendi

who_needs_an_islamic_state
Convinced me that those movements calling for the establishment of an “Islamic State” would almost certainly set up repressive and authoritarian regimes if they succeeded in gaining power.

7. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

catch_22
Extremely black comedy about war that helps build up a healthy scepticism towards those wielding power.

 

8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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A plausible and deeply haunting look at the apocalyptic future awaiting humankind if we do not come to our senses and refrain from using weapons of mass destruction.

9. The End of Science by John Horgan

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A sceptical look at some of the latest ideas in the world of science accompanied by a series of searching and amusing interviews with some of its most famous current practitioners.

 

10. Cosmos by Carl Sagan

cosmos
A passionate plea for humankind to turn away from narrow sectarian differences, to reject superstition and instead to fulfil our innate curiosity to learn more about the universe and our place within it.

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Theresa May and the Mystery of the Missing Pledge About Hate Crimes Against Muslims

Mystery

Last Monday (23rd March 2015), the Home Secretary, Theresa May, delivered an important speech outlining the government’s counter-extremism strategy.

The full speech contained quite a few passages I would normally take issue with, but it also contained a crucially important sentence that was very welcome news indeed. The Home Secretary said:

“We will require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crime.”

This is something that many Muslim organisations including MEND and the Muslim Council of Britain have been calling for, for a number of years now in order that we might obtain an accurate picture of what is happening across the country and develop a more comprehensive strategy to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice.

But wait…what is this? A look at the same speech today finds that the passage above no longer appears in the speech on the official government website. How very bizarre and indeed how unsettling. What could be the explanation?

I have written to the Home Secretary as follows:

Dear Home Secretary,

I read the transcript of your speech “A Stronger Britain, Built On Our Values” as it appeared on the official government website (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/a-stronger-britain-built-on-our-values) last week with great interest.

I was particularly impressed by the following passage in your speech:

“We will require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crime.”

Muslim communities have long been asking to be treated equally in respect of hate crimes. Just as police forces currently record anti-semitic hate crimes as a separate category, we have looked to our government to ensure that the police also record anti-Muslim hate crimes too so that we can have an accurate picture of what is happening in our communities across our country where we are hearing reports of regular attacks against Muslim individuals and on our places of worship and even on our cemeteries.

You can imagine my disappointment today when I re-read your speech and found that your commitment to require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes no longer appeared there.

This disappearance is very puzzling as this passage certainly appeared in your speech as published on the government website just last week.

Home Secretary, in your speech, you said that your government’s counter-extremism strategy “aims to tackle the whole spectrum of extremism, violent and non-violent, ideological and non-ideological, Islamist and neo-Nazi – hate and fear in all their forms.”

By seemingly back-tracking on the commitment to require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes I am afraid many will quite rightly wonder just how serious the government really is about tackling “the whole spectrum” of hate and fear.

I hope you will take this opportunity to re-assure British Muslims that you consider anti-Muslim crimes to be just as unacceptable as anti-semitic crimes and that police forces will indeed now be required to keep accurate records of all such incidents.

Yours faithfully,
Inayat Bunglawala
Muslims4UK
http://www.muslims4uk.org

Update (2nd April 2015): I have managed to get hold of a copy of the original speech as delivered by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and as I mentioned in the above blog post the promise to “require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crimes” does indeed appear in the speech on page 6. The paragraph in which that promise occurs and two subsequent paragraphs have all been removed from the version of the speech that is now on the Home Office website, so it does look like this issue could well be part of an ongoing internal policy debate between the civil service, the Tories and the Lib-Dems.

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The Muslim Community from Rushdie to Hebdo

SatanicVersesI went along to the Muslim Institute in Old Street, London, earlier this afternoon to take part in a panel discussion entitled “The Muslim Community from Rushdie to Hebdo”. I have written about this topic on several previous occasions so I used the opportunity to place the topic in a wider context that interests me most. A summary of the points I made follows below:

  • The Satanic Verses Affair led to the launch of the Muslim Institute’s Muslim Manifesto in 1990 which called for the creation of a Muslim Parliament and described it as a “non-territorial Islamic State” in Britain. The demands to ban/pulp  the book etc are all rather embarrassing now! Still, we were a very young community at the time and were bound to make lots of mistakes.
  • There will always be some people who will call for a ban on books, movies, art, music that they find offensive or sacrilegious.
  • Europe has an understandable suspicion of the role of religion in issues to do with freedom. In the 17th Century, Galileo faced the Inquisition due to his support and advocacy of the Copernican revolution which contended that the Earth revolved around the Sun and not vice versa which had been the view prior to that. The Catholic Church regarded Galileo’s views as sacrilegious and placed him under house arrest for the last nine years of his life.
  • In his book, The Beginning of Infinity, the scientist David Deutsche argues that a Tradition of Criticism is essential for progress in science and politics and many other fields of human endeavour. To his detractors, Rushdie’s novel was a blasphemous book. To his supporters, the book was an exploration of themes to do with immigration and religion.
  • Charles Darwin wanted originally to publish On The Origin of Species only after his death as he was quite aware of the controversy his views on evolution would cause in Victorian England. Many in the Church found his theory to be anti-Christian and anti-Biblical. Today, the theory of evolution sits at the centre of all biology. As Dobzhansky observed “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” Great insights may well challenge the religious authorities/thinkers of the time. That is not a reason to suppress the ideas/insights.
  • After lecturing British Muslims about the value of free speech back in the late 1980s, the UK government is today itself intent on eroding our free speech. Witness this week’s announcements by the Home Secretary Theresa May regarding Banning Orders, Mosque Closure Orders and the open intimidation of universities to force them to deny a platform to speakers the government deems “undesirable”.
  • Theresa May provided a definition of extremism in her speech as follows:

 “the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

  • theresa mayMaybe she was tipsy when she delivered her speech as the definition of “extremists” is so broad that it would certainly encompass the well known scientist and atheist Richard Dawkins who famously did not display much “respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” when he wrote in The God Delusion that:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

  • Will the government seek to deny Professor Dawkins a platform at universities to speak? I doubt it.
  • While pointing fingers at British Muslims for not doing enough to integrate and adhere to “British Values” the government just a few weeks ago lowered the British flag at a number of government buildings in response to the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. This honour was reserved for a despot who ruled as an absolute monarch and who presided over an insanely corrupt kingdom which routinely features in lists of the world’s worst places for respecting freedom. This was also a good excuse for me to insert a Powerpoint slide entitled “David Cameron – The Twat”.
  • I ended with an observation from Salman Rushdie as I thought it was a poignant way to end the presentation given that I had started with the Satanic Verses:

freedom-of-thought-becomes-impossible-salman-rushdie

  • And during Q&A I made a comment regarding the government’s curious attempts to engineer a favourable government-friendly Muslim identity that is uncritical of the government’s foreign policy disasters in the Muslim world and its draconian counter-terrorism measures at home. I noted that a Freedom of Information request had been submitted to find out the names of the British Muslim organisations that the government had been supporting/financing in this regard – but they had refused to provide this information.  How bizarre.
Posted in Extremism, Islam, islamophobia, Science & Evolution | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Islamic State as a Curse of Humanity

 

 

mosul_museum_destruction

One of the joys of being in London is the easy access to its magnificent free museums and their fabulous treasures. Here one can wander about leisurely and gently allow your spirit to soar as you marvel at the historical artefacts that have been collected assiduously from all parts of the world.

In the British Library, there is a Qur’an dating back to the early 8th century and it always gives me goose bumps when I compare it to a modern Qur’an and can identify the very same passage there.

A few years back, the Director of the British Museum, Neil McGregor, published a glorious book called “A History of the World in 100 Objects” in which he selected 100 pieces from the Museum’s unrivalled collection of artefacts to help tell the story of humanity. It also featured as a major BBC Radio 4 series (which can still be heard at the link provided).

So, what are we to make of the news over the past couple of weeks that followers of the self-styled Islamic State have been proudly showing off video footage of their destruction of pre-Islamic objects and monuments in Mosul Museum and the ancient city of Nimrud?

The actions of these cultural vandals raises so many questions.

The early Islamic civilisation was renowned for its patronage for learning and science. In his landmark 1973 book and BBC TV series, The Ascent of Man, Dr Jacob Bronowski, commented that those early Muslims had built:

“…an empire of spectacular strength and grace, while Europe lapsed in the Dark Ages. In this proselytising religion, the science of the conquered nations was gathered with a kleptomaniac zest…The Masjid-I-Jami (The Friday Mosque) in Isfahan is one of the statuesque monuments of early Islam. In centres like these, the knowledge of Greece and of the East was treasured, absorbed and diversified…It may be a quality in Islam as a religion, which, although it strove to convert people, did not despise their knowledge.”

The contrast with what is happening today in parts of Iraq and Syria is quite depressing. Whereas those early Muslims were builders and gathered and expanded existing knowledge and in the process left a legacy that has benefited humanity as a whole, these modern followers are enthusiastically seeking to destroy the knowledge of our past.

And it is to this “Islamic state” that so many young British Muslims are travelling to give their allegiance. Sometimes there just are no words.

Posted in Extremism, Islam | Tagged , , | 1 Comment