PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAST LAUGH

Humour Tribunal

As always, this topsy-turvy world just keeps on getting topsier and turvier. There are so many contradictory things confusing me right now that I don’t know where to begin. As good a place to start as any is the mainly Hindu nation of India which has recently legalised gay sex. Meanwhile, the mainly Muslim nation of Malaysia sentenced two Muslim hijabi lesbians to be lashed for their crimes of passion, only to have the 93 year old Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad say this was too harsh a sentence. In a video posted on his Twitter account Mahathir said the caning “did not reflect the justice or compassion of Islam.” He said since it was the women’s first offence it warranted a lighter sentence such as counselling. “This gives a bad impression of Islam. It is important that we show Islam is not a cruel religion that likes to impose harsh sentences to humiliate others.”

Another example of the world teetering on the collective edge of darkness involves America whose military have now stopped giving some $300 million dollars in aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad’s lack of “decisive actions” in support of American strategy in the region. The US has also stopped all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body responsible for Palestinian refugees, and to USAID development and infrastructure projects in the Palestinian Territories. This is Trump’s way of continuing his diplomatic war on the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in the historical heart and home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, arguably the richest country in the Middle East, continues to use American made weapons against the Muslim population of Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East (for more details on the use of American weapons in Yemen please see the excellent comic What America’s Weapons Are Doing to Yemen).

America might be divesting money from Pakistan, but the Chinese are pouring billions into the Islamic Republic, all in the hope of building a super highway that will reduce shipping times and costs for their mass produced global items. But at the same time the atheist Communist Party of China are detaining more than 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims, along with other Muslim minorities, within its own borders. And how does China defend such actions? In a move that would have made George Orwell give a wry smile, China claims that the Muslim detainment camps are in fact “educational centres.” It almost seems like Muslims at home bad, Muslims abroad good.

In a similar vein, we have the Syrian town of Idlib, the last anti-government stronghold, bracing itself for a potential genocide by the Assad regime. And then we have our old friends the Saudis who, instead of trying to use their powerful influence to end the conflict, are doing more important things such as arresting a man for having breakfast with a woman. Confusing times indeed.

A final example of this encroaching madness is the political hysteria in Britain currently affecting both major parties. Labour, and their leader Jeremy Corbyn in particular, are being hounded for the alleged anti-Semitism that exists within its ranks. Yet there is nary a media flutter regarding the blatant Islamophobia that exits within the Conservatives. Case in point are recent comments made by the Conservative MP Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary.

In a recent column in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson wrote that while he doesn’t support a burqa ban he does think they are “ridiculous” because they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” Johnson went on to write “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree. I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” He also said that if “a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber,” he would ask her to remove her face covering in order to speak to him. He added that humans “must be able to see each other’s faces.”

In case you missed it, there you have a sitting British MP making an intolerant and Islamophobic comment, which goes against his own party’s definition of British values taught in secondary schools up and down the land, values that demand mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. And he openly made these comments in a newspaper article. The comedian Zahra Barri responded by saying:

I can’t believe what Boris Johnson said about the burka. If anyone needs to cover their hair and cover their face, it’s Boris Johnson. – Zahra Barri

And I shall for the time being ignore Johnson’s more recent comment where he compared prime minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan (related to Brexit negotiations) to having “wrapped a suicide vest” around Britain and handed the detonator to Brussels.

Boris Burka

Boris Johnson may have said such Islamophobic things but Rowan Atkinson then tried to defend them. The British actor, best known for his portrayals of Mr Bean and Blackadder, said Boris’ comments were a ‘joke.’ Atkinson wrote to The Times newspaper, saying:

As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one. All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them. You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required. – Rowan Atkinson

However, according to journalist Nikesh Shukla, this form of defence leads us all down a dangerous path:

Whether Boris Johnson considers his comment a joke or not, the fact that it is being defended as such sets a dangerous precedent. It makes the comment itself beyond criticism and beyond reproach, because the context around humour is still that if you don’t get the joke, it’s your fault, it’s my free speech to say whatever I want. And that is not what good humour should do. Good humour should punch upwards, never downwards, nor sideways, further pushing people into the margins. If comedy is universal, and funny is funny, a joke should bang every time to everyone. But funny is not always funny. And rather than looking at who’s laughing, look at who isn’t, and why. You might learn something. – Nikesh Shukla, 10 Aug 2018, metro.co.uk

The words of Johnson are just another example of how throughout 2018 the boundaries of satire have been pulled, pushed, extended, contracted, and contorted. Comedy and the limitations we place upon it are being tested like never before. These are confusing times indeed, especially for people who are on a stage, standing in front of a microphone, staring at an audience, trying to tell a joke.

Kathy Trump

So far this year we have seen the quiet return of Kathy Griffin, a comedian who thought her career was over because in 2017 she posted both a video and a photo of herself holding the bloody head of Trump. Both pieces went viral almost immediately and created an uproar as planned. Griffin emotionally apologised for the distress the photo caused, and she was subsequently fired by CNN as a result. But then 2018 saw Griffin slowly return to the limelight, beginning with an appearance on the weekly talk show Real Time With Bill Maher in March, where she seemed to almost take back her initial apology. Her comeback continues when in November she is to be named Comedian of the Year at the first Palm Springs International Comedy Festival.

The #MeToo movement quite rightly slayed the comedian Louis CK, and perhaps more controversially fellow comedian Aziz Ansari, and now former senator Al Franken, who had to resign and did so rather controversially. Whilst the hoopla around Franken and Ansari has died down somewhat, the controversy around Louis CK continues to rage due to his attempt at returning to stand up. Louis received a standing ovation at New York’s illustrious Comedy Cellar when he performed an impromptu gig last month, a gig that has divided fans and critics alike.

And then you have the controversy surrounding comedian Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, who made a video of himself training his girlfriend’s pug dog to do a Nazi salute. Meechan was then convicted in a Scottish court of “inciting racial hatred.” The terrifying thing about this conviction is the judge sided with the prosecution who said “context and intent are irrelevant” in a joke. If ever context and intent are relevant then surely it is within something as subjective as a joke. The conviction caused fellow comedian Shappi Khorsandi to make the following rather discerning point:

This sets a frightening precedence for all of us. Anyone who takes offence at something which is meant in jest could eventually have a case to take to court…But it’s not just Count Dankula we are defending, the picture is far bigger than that. We are fighting not for this individual, but for the principle of free speech which right now is being fought for more robustly by the far right than it is by the left. This is a nonpartisan issue. You don’t have to agree with someone to fight for their right to say what they’re saying. Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. – Shappi Khorsandi

The American comedian Michelle Wolf was this year’s comedy speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. During her 19 minute set the comedian was scathing about Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his press secretary Sarah Sanders, who sat stoned faced throughout. Wolf stunned guests at the prestigious media dinner in Washington with a risqué speech that eviscerated members of Trump’s administration, some of whom were in the room. As expected Fox News hated every second of it, whilst liberals loved every word.

2018 was also the year that Roseanne Barr, 1980s TV show trailblazer, was going to make her big TV comeback. However, Barr, a vocal Trump supporter, ended up being fired after a rather distasteful racist tweet. Whilst Trump supporters were angry about such events, they were even more furious when Samantha Bee, a vocal Trump hater, was not fired for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” For a while there, it looked like Bee might not survive the intense backlash that followed her use of the term to describe the first daughter and White House adviser during a segment about her failure to prevent the president from separating immigrant families at the border. In an interview Bee said “It wasn’t a great experience. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, and I was very regretful that that moment really took away from what I was trying to say with the segment.”

We also have the aforementioned Saudis who are officially threatening jail time for online satirists. 2018 saw the Kingdom pass strict new social media laws targeting dissent, which means anyone caught using online satire to “disrupt public order” faces up to five years in prison and a massive fine. In an announcement published on Twitter earlier this month, the public prosecutor’s office said “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media…will be considered a cybercrime.” I guess some people really can’t take a joke.

Someone who most definitely has been disrupting the public order for many years is Sacha Baron Cohen. The actor and comedian, famous for creating comedy characters such as Borat and Ali G, returned to our TV screens this year with the 7-part political satire program Who Is America? Perhaps Showtime, the network who created the show, were being a little facetious when, in the run-up to the July premiere, promoted the series as “perhaps the most dangerous show in the history of television.” The show ended up receiving mainly mixed reviews across the board.

In one of the episodes there is a sketch where Cohen interviews Roy Moore, the former US Senate candidate from Alabama. In the sketch Cohen, disguised as Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad, demonstrated what he said was a new device invented by the Israeli army for detecting paedophiles. The device beeped whenever it was held close to Moore. After it beeped several times Moore walked out of the interview. And just when you thought this could not get any stranger, Moore is now suing Cohen. A $95 million lawsuit has been filed in the federal court of Washington DC by Moore, accusing Cohen of defamation for duping Moore into appearing on the show. Moore has also brought defamation claims against Showtime and its parent, CBS Corp, over the sketch that clearly portrayed him as a sex offender. The lawsuit said the show mocked him with a “false and fraudulent portrayal” that harmed Moore’s reputation and caused “severe emotional distress” to his family. I guess some people really can’t take a joke.

However, the biggest pusher of comedic boundaries this year has to be everyone’s favourite politician Donald Trump, a man who continues to thwart national and international security in order to ease his own personal insecurities. On numerous occasions White House officials have explained away many a Trump comment by simply saying that he was “just joking.” It is ironic that a man who once claimed to have the “best words” has so many of his presidential remarks chalked up to being just jokes. In a brilliant article columnist Neil J Simon explains in detail the dangers of using the “just joking” justification:

Perhaps it’s all just shrewd politics. Trump gets to say outrageous things that please (and stoke) his base while White House staffers clean up the mess with the press by brushing it all off as simply the president ribbing his audience. That probably works for surviving a news cycle. But ultimately it’s a strategy that diminishes the presidency and imperils America’s standing with the world. Or maybe this is just another one of the privileges of white male heterosexuality – that nothing you say can be held against you, that there is no accountability for your words. Either way, a White House staff routinely engaged in dismissing the president’s words as only jokes isn’t helping Trump get out of uncomfortable scrapes. They are telling the American people over and over again not to take this president seriously. It’s one thing for Americans – not to mention leaders of other nations – to view Trump as a buffoon on their own assessment. But it’s an entirely different matter for an administration to so frequently present its own president as a jokester whose words don’t matter, a shocking development in the history of the American presidency. If, as it has been said, there is truth in all humor, the truth of Trump’s humor is all too clear. He is a racist. He is a demagogue. He is no respecter of persons, of principles or of democratic institutions. – Neil J Simon, 05 May 2018, huffingtonpost.com

Serena Cartoon

Despite all these incidents (and many more that I simply do not have time to mention in any detail, such as the racist Serena Williams cartoon in the Australian newspaper the Herald Sun, or the conviction of comedy legend Bill Cosby of sexual assault and his upcoming sentencing, or the free speech discussions related to the Trump and Sadiq Khan blimps that flew over London, or the savage satire of Spike Lee’s movie BlacKkKlansman) comedy and satire still have power to influence and change, something that satirist Bill Maher recognised in his show Real Time With Bill Maher recently. In his closing monologue Maher called for the return of former senator Al Franken, himself a comedian and satirist, back to the political limelight to take on Trump using the power of satire:

We need Democrats to keep a laser focus on the one issue that really matters: finding out what is Trump’s kryptonite. I think it’s ridicule. The one thing that gets under his skin, besides red dye number two, is being made fun of. Remember how he seethed when Obama made fun of him at the Correspondents Dinner? The hair on the back of his neck stood up, which was fascinating to watch since it’s been transplanted to the front of his head. We need someone who can shred Trump like a stand up takes down a heckler, because Trump is a heckler, and to fight him we need a comedian. – Bill Maher, 07 Sep 2018

He ends the monologue by adding that:

It’s time to get Al off the bench so he can come back to doing what he does better than any other Democrat: taking down right-wing blowhards. I want to see Al Franken debate Donald Trump. And, by the way, so do you. – Bill Maher, 07 Sep 2018

Alongside the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, let us not forget all the other shows out there all trying their best to keep Trump and his cohorts in check, shows such as (big deep breath): Jimmy Kimmel Live! With Jimmy Kimmel, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show With James Corden, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Conan With Conan O’Brien, I Love You America With Sarah Silverman, The Break With Michelle Wolf, The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, The Jim Jefferies Show With Jim Jefferies, Saturday Night Live, Unspun With Matt Forde, The Rundown With Robin Thede, and the upcoming show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj. And that is just a list of TV shows, I am not even going to begin listing the dozens of successful online podcasts that regularly go after Trump.

The reason why I find myself looking so closely at the limitations of comedy is because of a documentary called The Last Laugh by Ferne Pearlstein. I saw this brilliant documentary only a few weeks ago and found it very thought provoking. The notion of what is acceptable for ridicule (which, let’s face it, will always be based on our own subjective moral values) is the subject matter of The Last Laugh. Can we make jokes about the Nazis and the Holocaust? Should we? Despite being made in 2016 it still fits in perfectly with all the ongoing discussions we have around the limits of satire. It opens with a quote from German novelist Heinrich Mann:

Whoever has cried enough, laughs. – Heinrich Mann

This statement on the strange pairing of tears and laughter is the focus of the documentary, which cuts between scenes with Los Angeles Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone and interviews with well-known comedians such as Mel Brooks, Jeff Ross, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner, Judy Gold, and others. It is well worth watching if you get a chance. Here are some of my favourite quotes from this brilliant documentary. Enjoy!

The Last Laugh

Comedy puts light on to darkness, and darkness can’t live where there’s light. So that’s why it’s important to talk about things that are taboo, because otherwise they just stay in this dark place and become dangerous. – Sarah Silverman

I speak about the Holocaust all the time, but I enjoy life. I am so happy that I have three great grandchildren. Could Hitler imagine that I will survive and have three great grandchildren? I mean, that’s my revenge. – Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor

Humour is the weapon of the weak. Think about the things that we make jokes about. We make jokes about our bosses, we make jokes about death. When I was in the army we made jokes about our commanders. Our commanders didn’t need to make jokes about us. They just order us to do whatever they wanted us to do. – Etgar Keret

A great joke really does trump all rules. But it’s got to be a great joke. And the higher the stakes, the higher the standard for how good the joke has to be. A joke about a mother in law can be only slightly good and pass muster. But a joke about this stuff, such as the Nazis and the Holocaust, has to be like, you know, you are ashamed that you laughed at it but you are laughing because you can’t help yourself. – Harry Shearer

You can’t control how your joke will be inferred. I had a friend, Tom Janice, who would call it mouth-full-of-blood-laughs, where they’re laughing at the wrong thing. And that’s hard but it’s just no longer yours. I talked about the Holocaust and I said “the alleged Holocaust” and that’s a joke about Holocaust deniers. And a sophisticated audience would understand that and maybe a less sophisticated audience may not. I’m not saying that I’m sophisticated. But what are the dangers of that? That maybe a group of people will think that the Holocaust didn’t happen? I think that’s worth the risk? I think it’s worth the risk. – Sarah Silverman

We have greed and guilt and wars and genocides, and there is nothing we can do about it. I’ve read God’s answers, I’ve read Spinoza’s answers. There’s no answer. They’re both dead! And so the only way I can deal with the reality of it, the reality of existence, is to laugh at it. – Shalom Auslander

When I was about 18 years old my father came home from a business trip. And out of this box comes this most beautiful bathing suit. It had a satin shiny finish, the most beautiful floral print. And I remember parading around in this bathing suit around the swimming pool. And the boys whistled at me! And when they [the Nazis] came and escorted us out of the home, I put this bathing suit under my dress. I put it on, I thought nobody will know. And that’s how I left, and that’s how I arrived to Auschwitz. And we were supposed to get undressed to take a shower, and all of a sudden I felt heat on my face. One of the Nazi soldiers slapped me. I started to cry and I peeled this bathing suit off my body, I folded it very neatly, and I left it on the pile of my clothing. And with that bathing suit I didn’t only leave those memories, I also left my family, my friends, my neighbours, and six million Jews behind. So this bathing suit is always on my mind. – Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor

It was very much the notion that we made it, everyone who made it was part of this survivor community, and the obligation was to live well, love, eat well, have fun, get loaded at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, and enjoy life. Because the true sin was if you didn’t, after that experience, then it was a waste and then Hitler would have had the last laugh. – Roz Weinman

Comics have a conscience of the people and they are allowed a wide berth of activity in every direction. Comics have to tell us who we are, where we are, even if it’s in bad taste. – Mel Brooks

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EID IS ALL ABOUT PAYING IT FORWARD

Hajj Hands

We are nearing the end of the Islamic holy month of Dhul-Hijjah, the month of Hajj, in the Muslim year of 1439. In about nine days time, depending upon the sighting of the new moon, we will move into another Islamic holy month, Muharram, which will be the first month of year 1440 of the Islamic calendar.

The annual pilgrimage of Hajj is now over and most of the two-million-plus visitors to the holy land in Saudi Arabia will have gone back home, hoping they are spiritually reborn. With Hajj and the following Eid-Al-Adha celebrations still fresh in my mind, I thought it would be good to share a few of the better related articles I have recently come across. The three short articles chosen are written from a positive, honest, and personal experience, and they are presented below in full. I hope they provide a new and fresh insight into what Hajj and Eid mean to us Muslims.

I also came across a few interesting photo blogs from the Sunday Express, the Birmingham Mail, the Associated Press, and the UAE National. Some of the pictures are just simply breath-taking. If you get a chance please have a look. As always, enjoy!


Hajj Aqsa

A Palestinian man throws his child in the air following morning prayers marking the first day of Eid-Al-Adha celebrations, on the compound known to Muslims as Al-Haram-Al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.


What All Americans Can Learn From Hajj

The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca offers a model of unity in a culture divided by tribalism.

Tasmiha Khan, 15 Aug 2018, salon.com

Identity is what makes up the fabric of our communities, and connects us to our neighbors. It gives us a sense of belonging and security. But there’s a flip side: in the process of interacting with only those who are like us, we can alienate ourselves from greater society, sticking with our so-called “tribe.” In the past, tribalism has taken many forms: we’ve looked down upon caste systems. We’ve deepened the divide between the rich and the poor. As much progress as we like to think we’ve made, if you look around us there are also many degrees of separation. Are you Democratic or Republican? Suburban or rural? College graduate or drop-out? Tribalism is real and it is taking place in our own metaphorical backyards, under the guise of labels we don’t even feel comfortable discussing. Fortunately, we have moments such as the Hajj season to teach us how to come together despite our differences.

On a personal level, Hajj helps me situate myself in this world. As a Muslim American woman who chooses to observe the rules and regulations of hijab — literally, the veil — people often mistake me for foreign, although I was born here in the United States. With Ramadan passing and now Dhul-Hijjah, I look to my faith, Islam, to reflect and find meaning of my footing in this world for both myself and those around me.

Dhul-Hijjah marks the last month of the Islamic lunar year where one of the major pillars of Islam take place known as the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, that occurs between the eighth and 13th days of the month commemorating both Prophet Muhammad and Abraham.

During Hajj, Muslim pilgrims perform a series of rituals that dissolve the barriers between them. These rituals trace back 1,400 years, and their symbolism embodies unity among all believers: there is no distinction among people. More than two million Muslims show up to Mecca to complete these rites, as is obligatory on anyone who is financially and physically able to do so. All of us camp out in and around the Grand Mosque, The Kabah, and the surrounding vicinities such as Mount Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifa. There is a common thread among all: unity.

Hajj is considered to be one of the largest gatherings on earth, and with the high density of people in such close quarters, reality is stripped of all luxury. This experience allows one to be thankful for the blessings one has. It doesn’t matter if I’m American or born to immigrants. It doesn’t matter if I am a citizen or naturalized. It doesn’t matter how much I can earn or donate. What matters is my relationship to God and how I treat others around me out of love and fear for Him. Thus, I try my best to make it a point to engage in conversations with those who are dissimilar to me to debunk myths and promote cooperation.

As I take a moment to reflect on what this Hajj will mean for my community, I hope that mainstream society can also learn from Muslims. While Hajj is indeed a religious occurrence, it does not exclude individuals of other faiths — or no faith — from learning lessons of unity and sacrifice. Perhaps showing more compassion and kindness would allow us to flourish as a nation. Perhaps empathizing and lending a hand to the less fortunate would allow us to prosper as a society. Perhaps the problems within us can be lightened by lending a hand to those who may need it. The sky is truly the limit.


Hajj Quezon

Eid-Al-Adha at a public park in Quezon City, Philippines.


Eid Is A Chance To Celebrate The Wonderful Muslim Community That Shaped Who I Am Today

The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others and pay it forward.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, 21 Aug 2018, independent.co.uk

The meaning of Eid changes as you age, but like many religious festivals, it serves as a moment in time to come back to community. Whether it’s the “small” Eid after Ramadan (Eid-ul-Fitr) or the “big” one a few months later (Eid-ul-Adha), there is something about interrupting daily life for celebration and worship that never gets old.

Growing up, Eid wasn’t just the one day of prayer. It involved weeks of excitement in the lead up, such as shopping with my mother and choosing a new special outfit for the day. The house would be scoured until it gleamed (the Muslim version of a spring clean), and the requisite sweets were baked (or bought) before being duly laid out on heavily garnished trays for the visitors who would flood the house during the festivities. On the morning of, my father would wake us all up just as the sun rose, and we would go to pray.

These are my foundational memories of “community” as a child. Walking towards the large field behind the local Muslim school towards the lines of shiny blue tarpaulin that had been laid out before dawn and hearing the sonorous, soothing chant of worship wash over me: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La ilaha illa Allah, Allah Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lilahi alhamd.” Smiling at each other as we passed, wishing friends and strangers alike an “Eid Mubarak”, blessings on blessings, good tidings for the year ahead.

Aunties – blood relatives or not – who I hadn’t seen in for a year would coo over “how much I’d grown”, uncles would loudly clasp each other’s forearms in greeting, friends would compare outfits. There would be food, laughter, and the soft drink and tea was always flowing. And although I didn’t realise it at the time, these people were the people who were moulding me into the person I am today.

As I grew older, I moved away. I started working on oil and gas rigs, and would spend Eid calling family and smiling nostalgically at photos on my social media feeds. Settling into adult life, Eid was now spent with friends in different cities around the world. We learnt to create our own rituals and traditions, but as it turned out, they always had something in common with our childhood experiences. No matter where we were from, we found ourselves striving to replicate that feeling: yearning for a sense of belonging, meaning, and ultimately, community.

The Muslim “community” is often referred to as a single monolithic entity, but rest assured that not all Muslims share the same conception of it, or even believe themselves to be a part of it. Are we all part of a “community” by default? How important are they? And how much of ourselves do we owe to them?

Spending time and energy thinking about and investing in the communal rather than the individual may seem quaint, old-school even, in a world inundated with messages of individual success. But it is worth tempering the hubris and remembering how much of who we are is a matter of chance. Our parents, our early education and even our place of birth have significant impacts on our lives and chances of “success”. Behind every winner is an army of people who have made it possible: a coach, a dedicated teacher, a mother working double shifts.

My achievements would have been impossible if it weren’t for my parents and the people who surrounded me growing up. The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others. Pay it forward, if you will. After all, isn’t that what community is all about?

Eid Mubarak!


Hajj Girl

A girl joins a prayer to mark the first day of Eid-Al-Adha in Gaza City on Tuesday 21st August 2018.


What I Learnt On Hajj: It’s No Picnic, But Then It Was Never Meant To Be

The annual pilgrimage provided me insights and lessons that I use daily.

Saeed Saeed, 23 Aug 2018, thenational.ae

Whenever people are about to embark on the religious Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, they seem to feel the need to ask advice from those who have already done it.

Because every Hajj is unique to each worshipper, the questions mostly revolve around practical tips on how to navigate a two-million-strong sea of white-robed pilgrims.

But my advice to my Mauritanian friend Yassine, who performed the Hajj this year, was all about what happens after the fact, and how he will feel when he returns to Abu Dhabi next week. “That’s when your real challenges begin,” I said.

I understood his miffed expression, because I had the same reaction when, eight years ago, before travelling to the Hajj from Melbourne, an Australian teacher called Sara told me just that.

“What is she talking about?” I thought. “The challenge is to actually survive the Hajj.”

As someone who isn’t comfortable in large crowds, I thought the pilgrimage would be the most challenging experience of my life. And in a way, it was.

To describe the Hajj as gruelling is an understatement. For nearly a week, you are following a regimen that is both spiritual and physical. Daily prayers are mixed with walks to worship stations alongside millions of people from different languages and cultures.

While that sea of humanity is a beautiful thing to witness, it can be quite frustrating, too. There were plenty of moments when I came close to losing my temper with other pilgrims in my Hajj group – one was constantly complaining about the facilities and the heat, while the other was always late to the bus, causing us to get stuck in endless traffic jams.

I resolved to keep my mouth shut, and hoped my muttered prayers would assuage my grievances. But even that was a worry. I was mentally running myself ragged in my quest to seek a spiritual high. I was concerned that, despite my efforts and the hefty sum of money I paid to make the Hajj, I wasn’t “feeling it”, so to speak.

But like the physical world, the spiritual realm can also be subject to the rule of hindsight. For me, the Hajj was indeed no picnic but, on reflection, isn’t that the point?

The lack of sleep, the gruelling tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and standing in the heat on top of Mount Arafat allowed me to discover hidden reserves of stamina and resilience I never thought I possessed.

The daily prayers offered in congregation gave me an understanding that a spiritual life is not about chasing one feeling, but is instead an evolving process that needs to be constantly nourished and refined.

Instead of an entirely new beginning, I learnt that the Hajj gave me the tools to begin to make the internal changes I seek. And that’s where the challenges that Sara spoke of lay. Gleaning those insights is one thing, but to use them in life to be the best version of myself remains a tiring and daunting process.

It is the equivalent of climbing Mount Arafat daily, and constantly stumbling on the way. But, with the map and the tool kit that the Hajj provided me, at least I knew which direction to head in.

AMERICA IS LIKE A COLLEGE GIRL WITH DADDY ISSUES

Hoodo Hersi

I was recently listening to the classic rock song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. The song is about an intense spiritual experience Gabriel had and therefore the lyrics are rich in metaphor and subtext. Out of all the lines he sings two in particular always catch my attention:

I did not believe the information / I just had to trust imagination. – lyrics from the song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

We live in a time when it is difficult to trust any information that comes our way. So I guess that leaves us with imagination, but whose do we trust? Our own? In the last few years I have relied heavily on trusting the imaginations of stand-up comedians. And it is for this reason that I have recently, as usual, been watching a glut of stand-up comedy.

There was a Lenny Henry 60th birthday special on BBC2, there was a two-part show called The Big Asian Stand-Up also on BBC2, and the BBC World Service program The Arts Hour had a summer comedy special from the Lion d’Or Cabaret Theatre in Montreal. The show was hosted by the always excellent American-Iranian Maz Jobrani, and it featured several comics from all over the world, namely from countries that Trump has listed on his multi-iterative travel ban. Now there’s international irony for you.

I have also been watching some stand-up from the recent Edinburgh Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the world. This year the Fringe has seen over 20,000 individual comedy performances taking place in August. That’s over 2 years worth of performances happening in just one month!

After watching all of this comedy I have transcribed some of my favourite quotes. As you may notice most of the quotes selected have a somewhat foreign/Asian/Muslim tinge to them. That just happens to reflect the type of comedy I have come across recently. Having said that, I do enjoy a good stand-up comedian from overseas. There is no better way to understand a country and its people than through their humour. Also, to paraphrase Trevor Noah (who was recently talking about fellow comedian Ronny Chieng), a good stand-up is able to expose the stupid and illogical things society blindly subscribes to, and is someone who can also dismantle the cage of our accepted reality.

As well as being funny a stand-up from another culture, another country, can also bring a nuance and experience to issues that we natives may not necessarily have. And not just that, but a minority stand-up can use comedy to level the cultural playing field by getting their perspective across, as explained by the great American humourist Art Buchwald:

People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, “I’m getting even.” For me, being funny is the best revenge. – Art Buchwald

And that is what I see many of these stand-ups doing, they’re not getting mad, they’re getting even. Anyways, whatever the intention of these stand-ups is, I hope you enjoy the 15 selected quotes below.

Maz Jobrani Stars

Are my parents first cousins? Yes they are. Not something I love to talk about. And I found out when I was 15. Not a good day in my life at all when I found that out. We were actually watching television and I’m making fun of George Bush to my mum. “Hey mum, that looks like what happens when two first cousins get married!” You could cut through the awkwardness with a knife. My mother was like “Your father and I are actually first cousins.” “Oh. Okay. Sorry mother but this rice and dhaal doesn’t taste very good anymore. May I be excused?!” – Ali Hassan

Are there people in here who are raising their kids modern? For those of you who don’t know raising your kids modern means spending time with them. Because our parents didn’t spend time with us. First of all, I was born in Iran and then we went to America, and immigrant parents don’t spend time with anybody. I feel like immigrant parents, I don’t care where they are from, but once they get you to America they feel their job is done. I swear! We landed and my parents said to us “Land of opportunity. Go! You’re on your own. We’ll see you at graduation. You better be a doctor. And own properties.” – Maz Jobrani

As a Canadian the only way I can make sense of the election in the US is that, to me, America is like a college girl with daddy issues. Here me out okay. It’s like she’s left her uptight British parents, moved out, experimented with a black dude, flirted with the idea of being with a woman, and then was like “Just kidding! I like rich scumbags. He’s so stupid and rich.” I feel like if America was a person that’s who she’d be, and I can tell some of you want to laugh at that joke tonight but you’re like “I’m American too, so it’s not funny.” But it’s still true. – Hoodo Hersi

British Indians, out of every group, not just minority groups, but out of every group in the UK British Indians are the wealthiest and the best educated. We are taking increasingly prominent roles in the worlds of business and finance and politics, but we do it in a sort of behind-the-scenes way, we’re not ostentatious about it. So you might not know but secretly in the shadows we are sort of…basically, Jews are catching a lot of our heat! Conspiracy nutters everywhere are worried about the Rothschilds and the entire time the Patels are just quietly working away in the background. Why do you think it’s called the Illuminati? Because we run shit using looms, naan, and tea. Wake up! – Ahir Shah

I am originally from Palestine. It’s not easy being Palestinian nowadays or for the past seven decades. I think Palestinians are a very unique minority group. I think we’re the only ethnic minority group that gets excited when a racist person tells us to go back to our country. “Why don’t you go back to your country?” “Oh my God! Thank you so much. He thinks we have a country. That is so nice. Free Palestine.” – Eman El-Husseini

I speak Bengali, which is spoken in Bangladesh and is based on Sanskrit text. I speak Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan and is based on Arabic text. I speak Hindi, which is spoken in India and is also based on Sanskrit text. And I also speak English which, as you know, is based on oppression. – Eshaan Akbar

I was raised as a Muslim but I stopped practicing Islam a few years ago because I went on this journey of self-discovery, and that journey led me to discover bacon. That’s some lovely stuff you white guys are packing! Wow! I’ve never had alcohol but when I had bacon I was like “Woah! Hash tag I ain’t no Muslim bruv.” – Eshaan Akbar

I’m a 26 year old man who lives in his mums attic. I love living with my mum, an amazing woman. Last year we took in a refugee. He’s an amazing inspirational guy. He’s 16, he’s from Vietnam. Basically how this came about is my mum is a social worker and he was found and brought to her department, and he told us all this horrific stuff that he had been through. He’s been through the mill, he was forced into slave labour, human trafficked in the back of a van, and now he’s in Glasgow. As if that was part of the ordeal. As if he’d finally escaped from his captors, looked outside and went “Oh, for crying out loud! When will this madness end? Just put me back in the van.” So we decided to take him in. The next day the police brought him to our house. I thought that was pretty quick. I thought we would have had a couple of months, not 12 hours later the police knocking on our door saying “Alright mate? Here’s your refugee. Goodbye.” Is that it? I don’t need to sign anything? I’ve had tougher Amazon deliveries than this. What would they have done if we weren’t in? Just leave him with a neighbour? But taking in a refugee is hands down the best, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I say that like I’ve done loads of amazing stuff, like I’m Mother Theresa. The second best thing I’ve done is the time I managed to cook chips and a frozen pizza in the oven at the same time. Doesn’t sound that hard but they both had conflicting time and temperature guidelines. – Stephen Buchanan, winner of the 2018 BBC New Comedy Award

I’m British-Indian but my dad in Indian-Indian, he’s like aggressively into it. My dad has lived in various western societies for the last 37 years and has steadfastly refused to integrate into any of them, but he’s not Muslim so no one minds. I myself can’t be Indian-Indian, I couldn’t live there for long. If I have to live in a country that is so pointlessly hostile to Muslims it might as well be here in the UK. It’s closer. – Ahir Shah

Muslim women only wear the burka on special occasions these days, like when our kids have pissed us off, we’ll put one on and at home time we’ll just watch the little shits try and work out which is their mum. – Isma Almas

My best mate, Ruksana, came out to her mum. Ruksana’s mum is a very devout religious Muslim, she’s been to Hajj numerous times, she prays five times a day, so Ruksana was quite nervous about coming out to her. So she sat her down and she said to her “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m gay, I’m a lesbian.” And her mum just looked at her and said “Oh no! Now that is going to make it even harder to find you a husband.” – Isma Almas

My family are Muslim and some of you may have seen a Muslim woman wearing a burka, walking ten paces behind her husband. I just want to explain something, that’s not actually her husband. What we like to do is put a burka on, cover our faces, pick any Asian man, and follow him. It really freaks them out. – Isma Almas

My mum came over to the UK from Jamaica mid-to-late 1957. This was ten years after Windrush. She was really pissed off there wasn’t a camera crew to meet her. So she came over to the UK and it was different to what she thought it was going to be like. She thought it was going to be milk and honey and it wasn’t that at all. “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” We saw these signs in every single place where you went, so if you were a black Irish wolfhound you were buggered. – Lenny Henry

My parents came over from Pakistan in the 60’s, along with a lot of other men and women from south Asia, primarily to do the low paid jobs that white people didn’t want to do, like being doctors and surgeons. – Isma Almas

There was a lot of confusion when I was growing up. I got confused a lot about identity, I didn’t know what was going on. The most confusing thing that was ever said to me was on September 12th of 2001. I’ll take you back, if I may. I was in the eighth grade. There was this kid in our class, his name was Kyle. We were arguing, going back and forth in front of the whole class. He pushes me against the locker, he sticks his finger in my chest and says “Go back to Afghanistan, you dirty Pakistani.” And I’m Lebanese! I don’t know if I was offended more by the bigotry or the geography of the whole situation. – Wassim El-Mounzer

IMRAN KHAN IS NOT THE BROWN DONALD TRUMP

Imran Oath

So, I guess it’s official then. Pakistan’s charismatic cricket star turned firebrand politician Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi is the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan. Born in Lahore in 1952, the 65 year old took the official oath on Saturday 18th August 2018, a day after being elected by a majority of lawmakers in the national assembly. At a simple ceremony held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President’s House) in Islamabad, Khan, as luck would have it, in front of all those people and cameras managed to fumble some of the words, all spoken in Urdu. Urdu is one of the officially recognised languages of Pakistan (English is the other one), and it is a language that Khan should really be fluent in. Even Trump was not similarly stumped when giving his oath to office in his native English tongue.

Despite this slightly embarrassing hiccup, Khan’s first wife Jemima Goldsmith, the British heiress daughter of a Jewish billionaire, the mother of his two sons, and to whom he was married for nearly a decade, publicly congratulated him on his victory.

Being prime minister of Pakistan has been described by Time magazine as one of the world’s toughest jobs, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, but even before then it was rather treacherous. The country’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated, and a number of subsequent leaders have shared the same fate, variously being executed by order of the state, blown up on planes, and at political rallies. Therefore being cavalier about death seems to be a prerequisite in Pakistani politics. When Khan, who has spent more than two decades seeking the highest office in the land, was asked about such matters he casually replied that “You’ve got to go sometime. You might as well go for something you believe in.”

Khan’s first decision as PM was to scrub the nine-course meal traditionally served after the oath-taking ceremony, also held at the President’s House. It was a sign of the “austerity drive” he had promised while on the campaign trail. Instead, refreshments were served in the grand hall of the official residence. Khan had also campaigned on promises to combat Pakistan’s endemic corruption and to break the landowners’ monopoly on political power.

By any given standard Khan has led a full and colourful life. He served as the chancellor of Bradford University between 2005-2014, in the British city which has one of the highest concentrations of citizens of Pakistani ancestry. Described by Bradford’s vice chancellor as “a wonderful role model for our students”, Khan has been a hero for diaspora Pakistanis since his cricketing heyday in the 1980’s.

And it was during the 1980’s that he became known as a glamorous playboy cricketer. At the time he was friends with the likes of Mick Jagger, and he was known to wear leopard skin satin trousers whilst boogying at Annabel’s nightclub in Mayfair. In the defence of his playboy past Khan has said “I have never claimed to be an angel,” although it is somewhat doubtful that an angel could ever make it in Pakistani politics.

He also had a famous public spat with Salman Rushdie, author of the very controversial The Satanic Verses. Rushdie suggested that Khan was a “dictator in waiting” and compared his looks with those of Libya’s former dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Khan’s elaborate response to this? “What is he talking about? What is he talking about? I always hated his writing. He always sees the ugly side of things. He is — what is the word Jews use? — a ‘self-hating’ Muslim.”

Khan has gone on to say “Why can’t the West understand? When I first went to England, I was shocked to see the depiction of Christianity in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’ This is their way. But for us Muslims, the holy Koran and the Prophet, peace be upon him, are sacred. Why can’t the West accept that we have different ways of looking at our religions? Anyway, I am called an Islamic fundamentalist by Rushdie. My critics in Pakistan say I am a Zionist agent. I must be doing something right.”

Imran Queen

An 18 year old Imran Khan is introduced to the Queen by Intikhab Alam at Lord’s cricket ground in London, 1971.

And then there is the cricket. Khan is not only Pakistan’s most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, but he is also Pakistan’s greatest ever sportsman. He captained Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, against none other than the former colonialists England. The final of the 1992 ICC Cricket World Cup was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, on the 25th of March 1992. A capacity crowd of nearly 90,000 spectators saw Pakistan win by 22 runs to lift their first and so far only World Cup trophy. Ian Botham, Khan’s then arch nemesis, was bowled out for a duck (by Wasim Akram). Such heroics have earned Khan the titles of ‘Lion of Pakistan’ and ‘Lion of Lahore.’

As recognised by Khan himself, his colourful life makes him many things to many people. Some see him see him as power-hungry, operating at the behest of the military and out to undermine Pakistan’s democratic progress. Some see him as being so close to the army that he been called the armies “blue-eyed-boy.”

Others see him as a principled leader who has stuck to his guns and defied all his critics. Others still see him as somewhat hypocritical. His cynical wooing of various hard line religious parties has earned him the nickname “Taliban Khan”. His anti-American rants and his election stance as an anti-corruption, populist champion of change, notwithstanding his privileged Oxbridge upbringing, have left some voters unsure whether he can be trusted. Likewise, in the small world of the Pakistani elite, many are equally convinced of Khan’s dubious allegiances, with stories circulating about how he has on several occasions met the CIA and MI6 in London.

Khan himself proclaims to be Pakistan’s only political leader to make their money outside Pakistan, while keeping it all in Pakistan. He sold his London flat to buy a jungle on the outskirts of Islamabad, with cows for milk and yoghurt, a vegetable patch and even his own wheat – a picture of idyllic self-sufficiency. Now he just has to recreate at least something of that vision for the country which he has been elected to govern. And the stakes are high in a youthful nation of more than 200 million people, where many still live in grinding poverty. Although the economy expanded by nearly 6% in the year to June 2018, the current account deficit is rising fast, partly due to currency devaluations. Economists say another IMF bailout may be unavoidable.

Khan is no longer the playboy he once was. He has since been at great pains to affirm his Islamic identity. His avowals of Islam, his identification with the suffering masses, and his attacks on his affluent English-speaking peers have long been mocked in the living rooms of Lahore and Karachi as the hypocritical ravings of “Im the Dim”, another moniker allotted to him by his critics. Khan, however, now considers himself a practicing Muslim with leanings towards Sufism, a mystical path very different from the Taliban’s Islamic literalism. Khan has said that “My tradition is of a more Sufi style of Islam.”

Perhaps the strangest criticism I have come across of Khan emanated from an unexpected source. I am a huge fan of Trevor Noah, a South African born stand-up comedian who is also the host of the American TV news satire program The Daily Show. Over the years Noah has been very Muslim-friendly in his outlook. Hasan Minhaj was a regular contributor to The Daily Show, until recently retiring from it to work on his own show.

However, in a recent episode Noah decided to compare Trump with other politicians around the world, in particular to Khan. The comparison was interesting to say the least. He talked about how both Khan and Trump have similar pasts: both are from privileged families, both went to the best universities, and both had playboy pasts because of their heartthrob status.

I realise the segment, no longer than 5 minutes, is meant to be purely satirical, and perhaps we should just watch it, laugh, and then move on with our lives. Noah does clearly say “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Imran Khan is the brown Trump…I’m saying that Imran Khan is one of many leaders around the world who is following the successful format of the hit show called ‘The Trump Presidency.’” To compare Khan to Trump is a little disingenuous as Khan has been a long-time critic of the American government, and he sees Trump as someone who is presiding over “absolute civilisational decay.”

A more detailed critique has been written by Pakistani journalist Mohammad Nazar Syed, and the clip itself is presented below.

Because he is now the prime minister of Pakistan, many things from his past have resurfaced online. Among the usual crop of historical or embarrassing photos and YouTube clips, there is an article written by Khan nearly 17 years ago that has started trending again. In early 2002 Khan wrote a lengthy article for the Arab News where he described in detail his views on Islam, science, materialism, the east, and the west. It is well a read and is presented below in full. Enjoy!


Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion

Imran Khan, 14 Jan 2002, Arab News

My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.

I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal — the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.

To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.

I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight.

Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.

While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions — two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?

It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines — and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well-being and needs something more.

Since all morality has its roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.

Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.

There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.

I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.

Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.

The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.

CAPTAIN KHAN AND THE COLONIALS

Imran Clouds

As always there is a lot going on in the world. Where does one start in trying to make sense of any of it? For this blog post I have decided to focus of Boris and his burka-based bumbling: there is a short but interesting article from Labour MP Rupa Huq, followed by just a few of the readers’ letters sent to the Guardian, and then we have the fiercely satirical Daily Mash making a rather relevant point about the crazy scare mongering surrounding the whole British burka debate.

This is then followed up with a humorous anecdote involving former Pakistan cricket captain and now prime minister Imran Khan. I end with some quotes from the last two episodes of the weekly TV show Real Time With Bill Maher and, surprise surprise, my arch nemesis old Trumpy McTrumpFace gets a mention. I remember a few years ago there was a period of several months when the Metro newspaper could not go a day without mention Cheryl ‘Nations Sweetheart’ Cole, and it seems I am the same with El Presidente. Anyways, please be aware that there is a wee bit of bad language in some of the quotes below, so you have been politely warned. Enjoy!


Boris Johnson Is Leveraging Hatred And Racism In His Desire For Power

Rupa Huq, 11 Aug 2018, theguardian.com

His calculated remarks about burqas fuel the flames at a dangerous time for ethnic minorities

I remember the first time I was called “Paki”. It was 1978 at primary school in Ealing, west London, now my constituency. I was quite startled. My playground tormentor had to explain the etymology of the term to me. I retorted: “Actually, East Pakistan has been liberated into Bangladesh since 1971; it’s an independent country”, which shut him up.

I was born in Hammersmith the year after Bangladeshi independence and recall the racism of old. In those days, “the host community” saw the likes of me and the two kids in our school with turbans (brothers) as “Asian” – the shorthand “Paki” overlooking different nationalities. The subtitles of religion had not reared their head. The Satanic Verses and 9/11 changed that when the badge “Don’t freak, I’m a Sikh” was produced, signalling a disaggregation of Asians. Race broke down into religion.

When asked on TV about Boris Johnson’s recent calculated outburst, I found myself doing his voice and gestures. “It was like being in room with him,” Krishnan Guru-Murthy later commented on Twitter. But I fear that the lovable rogue act is wearing somewhat thin. He cannot be trusted: his flippant words endangered Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life; he wrote two columns on staying in Europe (for and against) and plumped for the latter, on deciding it played better among the Tory membership for his leadership bid; and, as my impression hinted, his private life has been “colourful”. I don’t have a vote in the contest and am not a burqa fan, but in his not very veiled attempt to assume the crown, the damage is already done. It would be a tragedy if he became PM through leveraging hatred against the most visibly different UK community who are already vulnerable and under attack.

It’s not enough to excuse his likening of burqa-clad women to letterboxes and bank robbers as eccentricity when it fuels Islamophobia. As an MP, you’re de facto a magnet for abuse – for me, usually with a Muslim twist, sometimes for speaking about justice for Palestinians, or even the dangers of leaving the EU. This spring, I received an Islamophobic package, containing a “Punish a Muslim Day” warning letter doused in a mystery substance. It resulted in police cordoning off my office as a crime scene and one of my staff being taken to hospital for examination – it was the week after the Salisbury attack. Every time a pronouncement like this is made, women have hijabs ripped off, grandfathers are attacked on the way to mosque and mosques have pigs’ heads left on their doorsteps. Such flippancy has consequences.

At the most dangerously rightward tilting moment in politics since the 1930s, Johnson’s intervention is fuelling the flames of the deplorable rise of all forms of hate crime in our society. With the ransacking of a radical bookshop and rebirth of rightwing thug Stephen Yaxley Lennon as folk hero Tommy Robinson, anti-racists should stand as one against Islamophobia, homophobia and antisemitism. The climate we have in our post-referendum divided nation has disinhibited the hate-speakers. The fate of my late friend and colleague Jo Cox, murdered in cold blood when doing something I undertake weekly – my advice surgery – is a reminder of where these sentiments can lead.

In the meantime, I have no idea what became of my infant school abuser. I’m not going be pursuing him for an apology 30 years on, but wherever he is I hope he’s a reformed character. Sadly, all the evidence on the ground is that racism is taking a more pernicious tone and Boris Johnson has just made it worse.

Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton


What Muslim Women Ought Not To Wear Isn’t A Matter For Boris Johnson

Letters, 08 Aug 2018, theguardian.com

Readers respond to the former foreign secretary’s comparison of Muslim women in burqas to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’.

I think Boris Johnson looks like a baboon’s bottom with a haystack on top. That might be charming if he were a decent human being, but given the malevolent nature of his interventions it would be a blessing to all if we were spared the sight and sound of him, and of his camp followers. He is no joke. Every woman without exception has the right to wear whatever she wants, or nothing at all, without fear of abuse or persecution. – Sally Griffin, Brighton

Lest people think that laws that ban covering the face do wrong only to highly strict Muslim women, please think about the increasing use of cameras with face recognition that can track everyone’s movements around the city. Until we have strict laws that prohibit the systematic practice of face recognition, except using the faces of court-designated criminal suspects, in any areas where the public is admitted, the only way we can protect our privacy is by covering our faces. We must defend our right to do this. I am neither Muslim nor a woman, but these laws attack my rights. They attack yours too. – Dr Richard Stallman, President, Free Software Foundation

It appears that Boris Johnson regularly follows two of President Trump’s principles. First, never apologise (even when you know you are wrong); second, get your name in the media as often as possible (even if you have to do it by expressing insensitive or extreme views). – Alan Bailey, Sandy, Bedfordshire


Burqas Apparently Biggest Issue Facing Family Of Twats From Nantwich

08 Aug 2018, thedailymash.co.uk

Mash Burka

Islamic women’s clothing is somehow having a terrible effect on a white, mostly atheist family in Cheshire. The Sheridan family are angry and upset about a small number of Muslim women wearing burqas, particularly when reminded by politicians and the media.

Mum Donna said: “You could wear a burqa to rob banks. It immediately draws attention to you and there are probably better disguises, but I can’t sleep at night for thinking about it. As a family we’ve got our own worries. It’s hard making ends meet and our son Mark can’t find a job after university, but these women wearing strange outfits in other places are making our lives hell. I worry that people might think they’re post boxes and put letters through the eye slot so they don’t get delivered. That’s never actually happened, but what if it was your car insurance?”

Daughter Jennifer said: “If everyone wore burqas I wouldn’t know if I was talking to my mum, a teacher or a paedophile. My GCSEs would be bound to suffer.”

Dad Steve Sheridan agreed: “It just doesn’t feel like your own country anymore when women aren’t showing plenty of flabby midriff in ill-advised lycra tops. We’re not racist because we worry about all sorts of religious clothing. I’m always fretting about vicars getting dangerously hot under their big cassocks.”


Immy’s In His Prime And Ready To Make A Lasting Impression

Derek Pringle, 30 Jul 2018, metro.news

Imran Khan’s ascent to the prime ministership of Pakistan in the country’s recent elections reminds me of the time he first showed a keen grasp of international relations.

The occasion was the dinner on the eve of the 1992 World Cup. England and Pakistan were the finalists and therefore the guests of honour, though it didn’t feel that way when our Australian hosts unleashed a Queen impersonator as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Disgusted by what they saw as jokes in poor taste, Graham Gooch and Ian Botham — staunch patriots both — stormed out, leaving the rest of the England squad at the bash.

Looking on with interest from the next table was Imran, who suddenly pointed at us and said: ‘Look team, it’s only the bloody colonials who are left.’

He had a point. There was Allan Lamb, born Cape Town; Robin Smith, born Durban; Graeme Hick, born Harare; Chris Lewis, born Guyana; Phil DeFreitas, born Dominica; Gladstone Small, born Barbados; Dermot Reeve, born Hong Kong; and me, born Kenya.

It was an amusing observation but one which would have been perceived as a cruel slight back then had it been uttered by a politician and not a cricketer.

Nowadays, with Donald Trump making nasty the new normal, Immy, as we used to call him, will be ready to trade insults — those sledges learnt on the cricket pitch excellent preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.


Real Time With Bill Maher

This week Trump held two of his hillbilly Nuremberg rallies. It’s scary to people in this profession. He calls the media “the enemy of the people” except, of course, for Fox News. They are so far up his ass they’re the enema of the people. From now on collusion is not a crime but journalism apparently is. We live in a country now where reporting reality gets attacked because it threatens the fantasy world created by the cult leader. – Bill Maher, 03 Aug 2018

I think every American needs to be passionate about this. The free press in this country was enshrined in the Constitution and it predates the Constitution. It is one of the things that makes America different, that makes America special, and that makes America great. And when we have people like the president, with the power of the presidency, trying to whittle away at that, to attack not only the truth sayers but the truth seekers, including the investigators, anybody seeking the truth he attacks. Once you are removed from truth, anything can sprout into that desert. – Charles Blow, 03 Aug 2018

Fear is a contagion in a democracy. Trump uses fear and he is exhausting the opposition. When you are in a fight, you can win two ways. You can bring your opponent to submission, think Germany and Japan after World War II. Or you can break their will to fight, think the United States in Vietnam. And the degree to which Trump and his lies and the constancy of the craziness, it breaks people’s wills. It checks them out. They become exhausted by it. And I think that there is some evidence in the polling to see that’s happening, so 95 days from an election, which I would argue is the most important midterm election in the history of the United States of America, everybody out there has a job to do, and it’s to vote and make sure your friends vote. Because there must be a check on this lawless administration or we’re down the road 10 miles into Trumpistan looking at the United States of America in the rearview mirror. – Steve Schmidt, 03 Aug 2018

This is a new level of political corruption because it’s a corruption of ideas. We’ve always had ways of trying to get at the money corruption, and we pay a lot of attention to it, but what happens when the ideas of a party or a group of political actors are completely corrupted? And that’s what we are seeing. – Lawrence O’Donnell, 10 Aug 2018

It’s always funny when I hear the immigration debate, like I see white supremacists saying “We want our country back.” We didn’t take a cruise here on purpose. We didn’t go “Oh, they’re hiring in America? Get on the boat!” It’s so ridiculous. We’re here because you wouldn’t do the shit you needed us to do. People also say dumb shit like “Slavery is a choice.” So if slavery is a choice I guess Harriet Tubman was just a travel agent. It really is this: this country is getting browner and browner and darker, and that’s just the way it is. So instead of Republicans trying to fuck over poor people, they should get to fucking. I don’t understand that. They should have at it. – D L Hughley, a black comedian, 10 Aug 2018

America hated the Kenyan so much, they gave her to the Kremlin. They hated Obama so much that they’re willing to do whatever to have white supremacy. Listen, Obama was what we aspire to be, Trump is who we are. – D L Hughley, a black comedian, 10 Aug 2018

We had a porno star say she had unprotected sex with the president. If you’re not worried about gonorrhea, how the fuck are you going to help us with North Korea? – D L Hughley, 10 Aug 2018

DIFFERENT QUOTES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS

Digging-In-The-Dirt

Look deep in your heart. Deeper. Keep going. Somewhere down there you will find a blog shaped hole. The bad news is this blog shaped hole in your heart is there because I have not written a blog post for a good few weeks, partially due to being busy but mainly due to being lazy and slightly middle aged. The good news is that I have just written this blog post that you are happily reading now so prepare to have your hole filled!

Sure, we can argue as to whether the blog shaped hole is actually in my heart rather than yours, but that is kind of missing the point. So, due to the underwhelming outcry that my lack of blogging has caused, please find below 21 quotes I came across recently that I hope you find as interesting as I did. I have tried to make them random and various, so there should be something there for everyone.

Also, as an added bonus I have thrown in a few cartoons from the always awesome and rather controversial cartoonist Mr Fish. Enjoy!

Customer-Is-Always-Right

Either Putin has something on Trump or Trump is just an idiot who got played. And honestly, I don’t know. What did we expect? This is what you get when put a KGB agent up against a KFC agent. – Trevor Noah, on the recent press conference in Helsinki between Trump and Putin

Everybody does better when everybody does better. – Jim Hightower

Governments have always sought to keep secrets and control the flow of information. The Internet threatens that power. Totalitarian systems such as China’s are dealing with the problem by exerting iron control over the Internet within their borders. By erecting a Great Digital Wall, China shields its secrets and makes their transmission difficult. America leans in the opposite direction. Our Internet is a wide-open Gomorrah that makes Vegas look like a Sunday school picnic. Trump is dealing with this uncontrollable flow of information by discrediting information across the board. Published secrets lose their sting if the public is unsure whether to believe them. Trump says one thing today and something different tomorrow. He veers wildly from topic to topic and crisis to crisis, recasting enemies as friends and friends as enemies. And he promotes conspiracy theories while disputing facts. The result is a gradual erosion of the public’s confidence in anything we hear. Sowing doubt and discrediting truth is destructive in the long term. Unfortunately, the digital age — so far, anyway — roars ahead heedless of consequences. It’s no wonder Trump fits in. – David Von Drehle

I can’t believe they cancelled Vivaldi after just four seasons. – tweet from @Holy_Mowgli

I describe my girlfriend as Amazonian, not because she’s tall but because she recommends things I might like based on my previous purchases. – Olaf Falafel

I grew up watching musicals. Miss Saigon, Oliver, Les Mis. Because there’s nothing upper class people like more than going to the theatre and watching other upper class people, dressed as working class people, singing about how hard it is not being upper class people. – Tom Houghton

I like watching Antiques Roadshow with my nieces, because I get to tell them that the old people in the background are ghosts trying to get their stuff back. – Jake Lambert

I love Scotland, it’s such a beautiful country. If only I could speak the language I’d move up there in a heartbeat. – George Rigden

I think people want to laugh about the things that make them similar, not what makes them different. I mean, the funniest part is always the part that everybody can connect with. – Michael Che

I’m a comedian who was committed to a mental hospital and grew up in a rural, isolated agricultural community. I am the definition of Funny Farm. – Juliette Burton

I’m very passionate about education and its power in changing lives and creating a better world, particularly for young people who come from the kind of background that I come from…Reading is something I’ve done a great deal of, particularly while researching my book Natives: Race And Class In The Ruins Of The Empire. And the more I learnt, the more I realised I needed to learn. I am feeling the weight of my own lack of knowledge, my own lack of understanding. – Akala, author and rapper

In 2016 the Democrats and the Republicans played a little game of chicken with each other, and the Democrats said to the Republicans “Oh, you cannot be so stupid as to vote for Donald Trump.” And they said “Don’t ever tell us how stupid we can be.” – Bill Maher

In my view America doesn’t even have an immigration problem. We have a “my life didn’t turn out the way I wanted to so I blame other people” problem. Oh that we have. The greatest con the Republicans ever pulled on working class Americans was convincing them that it was the immigrants and the single mom who were blocking their way to the American dream. – Bill Maher

Jokes about feminism often get 20% less than they deserve. – Adele Cliff

My dad caught me curing a piece of salmon. To teach me a lesson he made me smoke the whole packet. – Olaf Falafel

My dad loves his dog more than us. He makes it a roast chicken seasoned in herbs every Sunday, which is stupid as dogs have no concept of thyme. – Rachel Fairburn

Shame has its place. Shame is what you do to a kid to stop them running on the road. And then you take the shame away and immediately they’re back in the fold. You should never soak anybody in shame. It’s the prolonged existence of shame that then flips out into destructive rage. We can’t exist in that. It’s like treacle. – Hannah Gadsby

There is a massive consensus: we’re all agreed that the world is indeed fucked right now. Everyone knows that the American president is a ludicrous person. In this country (Britain) we’ve got two zombie political parties having a pretend show of political debate that’s never going to lead to anything. And Britain is going through this extraordinary act of sending itself to its room and not coming down as a show of…what? You shat your pants in front of the whole world and you’re sulking? It’s embarrassed by its own behaviour, frankly, and it’s a postcolonial sulk. Everybody’s just looking around, waiting for the embarrassment to fade. But Britain has this tradition of carrying on resolutely, because you’re committed to something, and is therefore locked into a position where it has to be seen to execute the absurdity it doesn’t want to go through with. These are desperate times. – Dylan Moran

Trump isn’t popular here in Scotland because we don’t trust anyone who can live to the age of 72. – Leo Kearse

What’s the best thing about being on your own? To be alone gives you the chance to lean into yourself. When we’re around other people, we’re being a performed version of ourselves that others bring out. It’s not always bad, it just grants you less time to observe yourself in your entirety. While it can feel scary to be alone, that might be because you’re not used to familiarising yourself with your own company. Get used to it! – Chidera Eggerue, social media star

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be president of the United States. – Spike Milligan

THE INSTAGRAM ILLUSION OF LOVE ISLAND

Speak Truth

I try my best to scour the internet to bring you some of the better, more interesting articles out there. This is easier said than done because we live in a digital age where everything happens so quickly. It is like watching a TV show on fast-forward. Nowhere is this speed more apparent than in the 24 hour news cycle. With multiple breaking news alerts a day the narrative is constantly changing. Opinions are reversed such that what was once received wisdom yesterday will become outdated nonsense tomorrow. Theories and opinions are developed by ‘experts’ at the start of the day only to have them thoroughly debunked before lights out. This makes it really difficult to try and stay on top of things. Here’s comedian Michelle Wolf expanding this theme further:

I mean, yes, we’re all addicted. The news makes money off the ratings, and I think we’re all partly responsible, too, because we keep watching it, and so it’s this vicious cycle. Of course they’re going to keep talking about everything outrageous that is happening, because we keep tuning in. But they’re not doing it to present the news; they’re doing it to present a show of some sort. – Michelle Wolf

Aside from the increasing speed of everything, there is also the fact that with Trump in charge we have this weird normalisation of abnormality. A recent example from a few days ago involves Trump giving an interview with The Sun newspaper. He made some rather politically provocative comments and the backlash to what he said was quite strong from many quarters, to put it mildly. So how did Trump react to all this? He just called the whole thing fakes news. He simply denied saying the actual words he actually said during the actual interview, words that are actually recorded for all to actually hear. The Sun responded to Trump calling them fake news by stating that “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well…fake news.” And round and round we continue to go down the digital rabbit hole.

Trump has a communications strategy which is a classic exercise in Orwellian doublethink: repeating false accusations while also shifting his position from a stance that he held just moments before. He did what he does best in situations like these, he adopted a tactic of sheer dogged efficacy to repeat a lie until it was no longer questioned.

There is a bumper sticker that says “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Trump lies to the extent that whilst he remains calm, soothed by his lies, the rest of us sit there shaking our heads in disbelief. Therefore speaking truth to power is nigh on impossible when the powerful lie so often and so effectively. I have no idea how to explain this phenomena of normalisation, so I will let someone else take a shot at trying to illuminate us all:

Current Moment

And to hopefully add further clarification to what is going on right now, please find below a selection of articles that I hope you find interesting and informative. As always only selected quotes are presented in most of these, and the articles are worth reading in full. Topics include Love Island, truth, ignorance, and euphemisms. Enjoy!


The Death Of Truth: How We Gave Up On Facts And Ended Up With Trump

Michiko Kakutani, 14 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins Of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated he’d made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office – an average of 5.9 a day. His lies – about everything from the investigations into Russian interference in the election, to his popularity and achievements, to how much TV he watches – are only the brightest blinking red light among many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, the intelligence agencies, the electoral system and the civil servants who make the US government tick.

Language is to humans, the writer James Carroll once observed, what water is to fish: “We swim in language. We think in language. We live in language.” This is why Orwell wrote that “political chaos is connected with the decay of language”, divorcing words from meaning and opening up a chasm between a leader’s real and declared aims. This is why the US and the world feel so disoriented by the stream of lies issued by the Trump White House and the president’s use of language to disseminate distrust and discord. And this is why authoritarian regimes throughout history have co‑opted everyday language in an effort to control how people communicate – exactly the way the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four aims to deny the existence of external reality and safeguard Big Brother’s infallibility.


The Meaning Of Love Island: It Shows The Pain Behind The Instagram Illusion Of A Perfect Life

Mala Mawkin, 04 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

If even these pretty and outwardly confident people can experience such anxiety, doubt and heartache, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same

The adverts are causing body image issues, TV talk shows claim it is “bad for teens” and headlines have dubbed it “toxic and hollow”. Love Island has been accused of epitomising everything that is wrong with the Instagram age – by placing a dozen preened, polished and beautiful contestants on TV in front of a susceptible young audience who end up feeling inferior.

But it’s unfair to say Love Island always has a toxic effect. Instagram has been accused of fuelling a “mental health epidemic” among young people, with the Royal Society for Public Health report naming it the worst social media platform for fuelling depression, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and poor body image. But Love Island might be the antidote.

Because it is filmed 24/7 for every blissful moment, we see the behind-the-scenes tears; for every romantic dalliance, there’s a bitter split. Sure, contestants parade around in swimwear and dress up every night, but we also see them take that makeup off and get into their pyjamas. When Dani Dyer’s boyfriend Jack went into a different villa, with his ex-girlfriend there as a surprise new contestant, Dani said she was scared he would meet a girl with “lipstick, tits, who doesn’t eat toasties every night”. These moments shatter the fakery of social-media images; if even these seemingly perfect people can experience self-doubt and heartbreak, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same.

Maybe this is part of its appeal. On Monday, the show pulled in the highest 16-to-34-year-old audience of any digital channel programme ever, with 1.7 million young viewers out of a total of 3.4 million.

Love Island has given us a salutary window into the psyche of the contestants, behind the confident veneers, and it has revealed a shocking fact: they are just like us. As A&E doctor Alex said when he had struggled, repeatedly, to find a romantic match: “I feel like I’m a leper or something…what is wrong with me?” Name a person who has not felt that way at some point in their lives.


The Ignorant Do Not Have A Right To An Audience

Bryan W Van Norden, 25 Jun 2018, nytimes.com

We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.

The media are motivated primarily by getting the largest audience possible. This leads to a skewed conception about which controversial perspectives deserve airtime, and what “both sides” of an issue are. How often do you see controversial but well-informed intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Martha Nussbaum on television? Meanwhile, the former child-star Kirk Cameron appears on television to explain that we should not believe in evolutionary theory unless biologists can produce a “crocoduck” as evidence. No wonder we are experiencing what Marcuse described as “the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda.”

The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.


From Alternative Facts To Tender Age Shelters – How Euphemisms Become Political Weapons Of Mass Distraction

Marina Lambrou, 28 Jun 2018, theconversation.com

The recent images of children in cages provided yet another reason to throw your head into your hands over America’s inhumane treatment of immigrants. So – for most of us – it was a great relief to hear that Donald Trump eventually gave into pressure and signed an executive order to stop enforcing the laws mandating the separation of children from their parents. But there are still many hundreds of young people detained in the euphemistically termed “tender age shelters” – in reality, prisons for children and toddlers.

Who comes up with these terms? They are not fooling anyone – especially as “tender” and “shelters” have completely different meanings to what is, in fact, the enforced separation of children who are then held in cages. That’s the trouble with euphemisms – they can enrich language, but in the hands of politicians they can be strategically used to mislead and disguise brutal practices, concepts and ideas. Euphemisms – or what are known in some quarters as “weasel words” – are used to conceal the truth of unpalatable situations or practises so that they are easier for the public to accept.

Who can forget “collateral damage” – or rather the incidental deaths and injuries of unintended and non-combatant victims? The euphemism – from the Latin word collateralis, which means “together with” – was adopted by the US military in the mid-20th century to describe the unintentional deaths that occurred “together with” the targeting of legitimate targets. The term was first used in the 1961 article “Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage” by Nobel Prize-winning economist D.C. Schelling. He argued that weapons could be designed and deployed in such a way as to avoid collateral damage and thus control the war.

It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to wheel out one of the more ridiculous euphemisms of recent times. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the counsellor to the US president, Kellyanne Conway, came up with the much-derided “alternative facts” to counter accusations that the then White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration.

Politicians of all stripes quickly come to realise how useful it can be to soften the impact of unpopular actions with some carefully chosen weasel words. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair was a great user of euphemisms in his political discourse. Many examples can be found in his interviews and speeches in 2003 to justify the Second Gulf War on Iraq, for example. He spoke of the “liberation of Iraq” (meaning occupation), “peace-keeping” (meaning war) and these could only be achieved by “removing Saddam” (meaning his death rather than forcing him from a position of power).

A decade earlier, the slaughter, torture and imprisonment of Bosnian Muslims in Serbia was described as “ethnic cleansing” when there is nothing purifying about these war crimes.

The US government’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” is another example of strategic word choices to disguise systematic torture. When he was US president, Barack Obama tended to avoid using the word “war”, preferring to use words such as “effort”, “process”, “fight” and “campaign” to describe the military action against ISIS, Iraq and Syria as it lessens the violence that war connotes.

Euphemisms have become part of political discourse that intentionally obscures, misleads or distracts audiences from unpleasant truths. Unfortunately, this is what politicians do with language and this is how they win support for otherwise unpalatable policies.