2020, A YEAR SO MOMENTOUS THEY NAMED IT TWICE

“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” So said Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, the first premier and founding head of the Soviet Union. Better known by his alias Lenin, he died in 1924, nearly a century ago. We’ll never know what he would have made of 2020, a year so dramatic it makes 2016 (with Brexit, Trump, and a slew of celebrity deaths) look like a temporal non-entity.

2020 began with the Australian bushfires, the assassination of an Iranian general (which nearly caused World War III). Then you had the struggle for Hong Kong, the Harvey Weinstein verdict, the death of George Floyd, and the dramatic, divisive and preposterous US presidential election. 2020 was officially the hottest year ever (since records began). It was also a year when the world was being seriously beleaguered by a never-ending pandemic, conflicts, economic recessions, and natural disasters. No surprise then that 2020 was the worst year for economic growth since World War II.

As a result, more has changed in these past months than at any other moment in our lifetimes, and many things that would have seemed unimaginable just a year ago have come to pass. 2020 has ratcheted us into an entirely new world, and tis the nature of ratchets that they do not move in reverse. In other words, welcome to the new normal, whatever that my entail.

Film critic Stephanie Zacharek said that “2020 tested us beyond measure…a year you’ll never want to revisit.” Writing in the 14th December 2020 edition of Time magazine, Zacharek went on to say: “There have been worse years in U.S. history, and certainly worse years in world history, but most of us alive today have seen nothing like this one. You would need to be over 100 to remember the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic; roughly 90 to have a sense of the economic deprivation wrought by the Great Depression; and in your 80s to retain any memory of World War II and its horrors. The rest of us have had no training wheels for this–for the recurrence of natural disasters that confirm just how much we have betrayed nature; for an election contested on the basis of fantasy; for a virus that originated, possibly, with a bat only to upend the lives of virtually everyone on the planet and end the lives of roughly 1.5 million people around the world.”

Ever the film critic, Zacharek added that “If 2020 were a dystopian movie, you’d probably turn it off after 20 minutes.” Not sure if that’s due to boredom or sheer terror, but I get her point because 2020 was just weird. Indeed, the cover for that particular edition of Time declared 2020 as “the worst year ever.”

Okay, so 2020 may not actually be the worst year ever. Every single one of us would happily take 2020 over any year before penicillin, indoor plumbing, electricity, regular trash collection, Netflix, or any year during the two world wars. But very little felt real in 2020. Screens became not just entertainment portals but a connection to the rest of the world, where we worked, learned, attended birthday parties and holiday gatherings, played games, and tried to maintain some semblance of real life. The concept of time in 2020 started to slip and slide. Each day felt more and more like Blursday, where yesterday still feels like today, and today still kind of feels like yesterday, and as such all the days merge into one.

And it seems I’m not the only one who feels like time is now distorted beyond normal comprehension. In March 2021 Richard A Friedman, professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, said: “I hit a wall in late February and felt that life had taken on a quality of stultifying sameness. Was it Wednesday or Sunday? I couldn’t really tell: every day of the week felt identical because there was nothing to distinguish them. Work, read, exercise, eat, repeat. Like nearly everyone I know, I have settled into a state of dreary uniformity.”

American talk show host Stephen Colbert recently confessed he no longer follows the calendar of “the before times” because 2020 was “the year that took 100 years but was also somehow one long day.”

Way back in February of 2021, in an article in the Atlantic Monthly author and journalist Helen Lewis described how the coronavirus showed “how our existence has been put on hold, how time has telescoped while our horizons have contracted.”

In the same month Bill Maher, another American talk show host, made the following comment: “We are half way through February and I still can’t wait for last year to be over. What the fuck!? I thought this was going to be a better year.” I guess we all did Bill. But, alas, the year 2020 was cursed. This is widely acknowledged. The end of any year is meant to be a time of reflection, but for most of us 2020 felt like an entire year of reflection. And 2021 has so far brought little relief, with the first month of this year feeling a lot like the 13th month of last year.

2021 sure seems to have gotten off to a flying start. Covid has slapped at least two new variants upon us, one from Brazil and one from South Africa. Brexit is still promising to bring the much-anticipated chaos many have predicted. And America seems to be on the verge of civil war. Hey America, who would have guessed that, when it comes to terrorism, the calls were coming from inside the house?

Despite this breath-taking bolt from the starting line, 2021 will have to do something truly spectacular in order to beat 2020, the year that changed everything. Any optimism attached to 2021, and there seems to be some (mainly due to the vaccine), reminds me of a joke where two old Jews are sitting on a park bench. One says “How are things?” The other says “Better than next year!”

Speaking of pessimists, in a recent Guardian article the ever-controversial Frankie Boyle described 2020 as “the year we’d rather forget.” He succinctly added “2020: what a time to still briefly be alive.” Whilst much ink has been spilled reviewing the horror that was 2020, two of the best reviews you will come across are presented by Frankie Boyle and Charlies Brooker, arguably two of the best comedians, satirists, and political commentators in Britain. Both are controversial in their own ways and both had a recent 2020 year-end review show air on TV. Brooker had the mockumentary Death To 2020 air on Netflix, and Boyle had Frankie Boyle’s New World Order 2020 air on the BBC.

Last year was perfect for their form of black sky thinking, which is why both shows are worth watching in full, despite receiving mixed reviews. Catch them where and when you can. In the meantime, please find below a selection of quotes from both shows. And, yes, I know there’s quite a few, but they are all rather good (at least in my opinion). As much as one can given, you know, everything that’s happening, enjoy!


Quotes from the BBC comedy show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order 2020, first aired 01 Jan 2021…

This year 75,000 people died in the UK, and it’s hard not to feel they made the right decision.

But there was some hope with the approval of the vaccine and, to be fair, at this point in the Scottish winter, I don’t care if they vaccinate me with a bullet to the fucking head.

Personally, I’ve long been expecting some kind of apocalypse, but I didn’t realise it would be this boring. I thought I’d be sharpening a bedpost into a stake to fight in some kind of underground car park coliseum, not walking around the big Asda just to feel alive.

I’ve found I’ve got nostalgic for arseholes. You’re just like, “Oh, God, I used to see people I didn’t like and it was better than this.”

I’m very hopeful about the vaccine. I don’t care if I turn into a lizard. It’s better than living inside with my family.

One huge story this year was the US election. The election of Joe Biden didn’t show that centrism is back, it showed that it’s now just barely preferable to madness. There really shouldn’t have been so much riding on a dying man beating a demented mango.

Despite his post-election attempts to incite a civil war, Joe Biden isn’t going to prosecute Trump, because no US president is going to risk a reality where there are consequences for your actions.

Looking back, 2020 wasn’t all bad. Some of it was terrible. Even the Yorkshire Ripper got sick of it and opted for eternity in hell rather than finishing the year on Earth.

President Trump, looking like Frankenstein’s monster won a holiday, has worked tirelessly to eradicate climate change by simply denying that it exists…He doesn’t react to external stimuli. It doesn’t enter…He’s a sort of black hole of truth. No truth is going in and no truth is coming out.

2020 is a year when the UK government got a lot of deserved stick. Priti Patel came under fire for being a bully. Personally, I’m shocked that someone in favour of dumping refugees in a volcanic outcrop 1,000 miles from land isn’t a delight around the water cooler.

Dominic Cummings left Number 10 by the front door. It was odd. Not least because the usual way he leaves the room is by crawling backwards into a fireplace clutching an upturned crucifix.

In Glasgow, lockdown was the starting pistol for old people to start haunting the streets like they’d formed a search party to go and find the coronavirus. The streets were thronged with the sorts of people who only normally leave their homes to vote for fascism. Basically, if you had a heart like a withered party balloon and lungs like a toddler’s testicles hitting sea water, it was suddenly time to get out and about.

And even the roll-out of a vaccine has fuelled conspiracy theories. Why would a vaccine contain an electrical component to monitor the British population? Once this is over, we know exactly where the population will be, the pub and Primark. Why would they bother to plant a microchip in you when you’re constantly voting for them anyway, SHARON?!

Ken Cheng: The pandemic started with it being mostly the China angle, and that was exciting for me because I got asked to go on loads of interviews, so I was raking it in. Now everyone has it. I actually miss the days when only Chinese people could have it. It was like, that was our thing. Why can’t white people just let us have our own thing? I’m going to say it: getting coronavirus is cultural appropriation.

This year, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, a man who looks like he was breast-fed until he was 29, has been unbelievably busy, spending upwards of 16 hours a day appearing in the dictionary under the word “fuckhead”. Of course, it’s easy to make fun of Matt Hancock, which is why we’re all here.

So, with the UK becoming the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, the year ended on an upbeat note for fans of unforeseen side-effects.

It’s worth remembering that things that currently seem dreadful or worrying will eventually pass as we are ground under the chariot wheels of climate collapse. Having Brexit at the end of a year like this is like finding out your cancer has spread to the walls of your house. Personally, I think that sooner or later the British will re-enter Europe. Admittedly, as refugees. One major problem with Britain is that everyone over the age of about 55 sort of thinks that they fought in the Second World War. You didn’t fight Hitler, Kevin, you’ve sleepwalked onto the drive in your pants again.

Back in April Jeremy Corbyn stepped down as Leader of the Opposition and the Labour Party undertook a radical rebranding with the replacement of an unelectable 70-year-old man with an unelectable 57-year-old man, Sir Keir Starmer – a sort of human abstention. A man so boring that already he’s been nicknamed Sir Keir Starmer.

I know that sometimes this year it might have felt like the whole world was against you. It’s worth remembering that actually, nobody gives a shit about you. Which can be a liberating realisation.

Our modern political history is an irredeemable conga line of narcissism from Churchill to Johnson via Tony Blair…I suppose if I could boil it down to one sentence, it’s this. We need to stop treating the traumatised monsters who rule over us as bumbling eccentrics.


Quotes from the Netflix mockumentary Death To 2020, first aired 27 Dec 2020…

2020, a year so momentous they named it twice…the most historic year in history.

Davos is basically Coachella for billionaires. And this year, pretending to care about climate change was top of the agenda, so they had Greta Thunberg headlining. She’s this teenage girl who’d become famous even though everything she says is depressing. Kind of like Billie Eilish.

Meanwhile in America, President and experimental pig-man Donald Trump faces the 407th most historic crisis of his presidency.

Polarization is the problem of our age. And not just in America, in the actual world too. Whether the debate is over Trump or Brexit or science or gender, God help us, or reality itself, no two factions can agree, or agree to disagree, or even agree that their disagreement might be disagreeable.

Look, things wasn’t always this way. I’ve studied human behavior long enough to get sick of it. You gotta remember, most folks are still neighborly, Ned Flanders. Unfuckably nice. But right now, the edges are rougher than ever. On the right, you got shit-nose extremists wondering aloud whether Hitler was all bad and inventing their own clown-house reality. And on the left, you got fucking whiney woke-lords cancelling the shit out of anyone who dares to take a dump at the wrong time of the day. And both sides, both sides look so unhappy it makes you wanna puke. But the way it’s going, you know we’re gonna end up on one side or the other. So, pick your fucking team and hunker the fuck down.

Right now, it takes about six months’ exposure to social media for the average person to become hopelessly radicalized. We’re hoping to get that down to five minutes.

Trump seemed to feel that the virus was one of those things that goes away if you ignore it, like a wasp or a wife.

By the end of March, lockdowns have been rolled out right across the planet, making them the most successful global franchise since the Marvel cinematic universe.

It was so quiet you could actually hear yourself think. I expect.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken to intensive care when he suffered the effects of coronavirus. With the Brexit PM in a critical condition, 52% of the nation holds its breath. There was a real fear that at a time of national crisis the Prime Minister might have to be replaced by someone less qualified than him. Which would be impossible. Unless they were drawing up plans to replace him with a sock or a balloon or something. Just as the Prime Minister might exit the realm of the living, a process known as Prexit, hospital staff nurse him back to health, and weeks later he’s back on the job. Incredibly, the virus didn’t seem to have affected his abilities in any way. He still didn’t have any.

Someone from my PTA WhatsApp group shared a link to a documentary which proves that George Soros created the virus in a Chinese lab so that Bill Gates could make a vaccine out of microchips and control us all like we’re in a videogame.

The police have interesting priorities. When George Floyd, one black guy, tried, allegedly, to pass one fake $20 bill in a liquor store, he had four cops on his ass within minutes. And they killed him. Know how long it took the same police department to arrest the prime suspects in that case? Four days. And they had that shit on tape! Did they think that was counterfeit too?

You had corporations going woke too, asking themselves how can they support Black people without actually paying them. Demonstrating their sensitivity by rebranding Ku Klux Krunchies as Rosa Parks Puffs, and so on.

Some white individuals begin to ask whether they’re doing enough personally…Well, I consider myself an ally. I looked within, I felt I could make some changes. So I started small, posting the black squares on Insta. I swapped to only using black emojis for texts. I sent a lot of friend requests to Black people. And I even learned how to pronounce their names. Even if it was difficult. And then I thought, listen, look, I know I care, but do enough other people know that I care? I realized I should up my game, so I posted a video about it.

With no cure for Covid in sight, life for millions has been reduced to a creepy new normal and a seemingly endless series of lockdowns…I live on my own and after a while I got so lonely I developed a multiple personality disorder on purpose so I could keep myself company. But then, of course, I had to try and keep two meters away from myself at all times. Don’t know if you’ve ever tried doing that but it’s a bloody nightmare. So I started doing video calls to keep sociable. I did so many I sometimes glitch in real life now. I just freeze now and then…Can you hear me your end?

I watched so much dumb shit on Netflix during lockdown. You see Floor is Lava, fire and brimstone, the game show? You know they filmed that last year, because in 2020 people wouldn’t even be bothering to try to escape the lava. They’d be lining up to willingly throw themselves in, pausing only to kick their kids in first. Maybe that’s season two.

The fact, which doesn’t care about your feelings, is that online and in the media conservative voices are being silenced. I’ve said this before. I said it on my YouTube channel. I said it on Joe Rogan. On the Jordan Peterson Kayak podcast. I said it on Tucker Carlson. Twice actually. And I said it in my New York Times bestseller, Conservative Voices Are Being Silenced. It’s a point I have to make over and over because conservative voices are being silenced. In fact, you won’t even use this footage.

The history books covering this deeply profoundly stupid period will have to be written in crayon. By a dog.

Having another lockdown was really annoying because I’d watched literally all of Netflix during the first lockdown. But then I got into this show called America, which was amazing. Have you seen it? It’s on the news channel. It’s totally mental. Just one twist after another. They had this sort of election fight happening between a bloke who looked like a ticket inspector on a ghost train and an inflatable orange maniac who didn’t seem to be dealing with the plague. Everybody hated everybody else, and the whole country was on fire. Not just the forests but the towns and cities. In fact the only thing that wasn’t on fire was the fucking sea, and that was probably thinking about it.

Traditionally by now the loser would congratulate the victor, but Trump doesn’t know the meaning of the word “concede,” and he was furious when they told him.

My God. There were so many discrepancies. I mean, listen, according to the records there were dead people who voted for Biden, which is impossible because ghosts cannot hold pencils. They said there were more mail ballots than ever. What about female ballots? The voting machines in Michigan were wirelessly controlled by Hunter Biden’s laptop. Georgia’s not even a real state. There’s no record of it existing before November. Jet fuel does not burn that hot. That was a controlled demolition. Trump not winning is a statistical impossibility like snow in winter or a duck that can’t talk. The total lack of evidence proves there’s been a cover-up! And the whole election never even happened. CNN made it look like it did using Deep State CGI. It’s all a lie. And if that’s what democracy looks like, then count me out. Actually, don’t count me at all because that would be democracy again. And I want no part of it.

The one good thing about Trump refusing to concede was that we got to watch him lose over and over. All those doomed legal efforts? It was like watching a man fall from a skyscraper trying to sue the sidewalk out of existence before he hit the ground.

Trump himself may have been voted out, but the movement behind him persists. America remains trapped in a loveless marriage with itself.

2020 challenged humanity on a scale like no other. A year of tumult, upheaval, outrage, insult, disaster, lava, and division.

RAMADAN 2021 – SOME USEFUL RESOURCES

Kaba pic

We have now entered the Islamic month of Shabaan (moonsighting.com), which means the month of Ramadan is less than 4 weeks away. Preparations for this blessed month should ideally be well under way.

Ramadan is an intense spiritual period where Muslims step up a gear by trying to be a better version of ourselves compared to the previous 11 lunar months. I once read Ramadan being described as ‘high altitude training for the soul.’ In our fast-paced world of hyper-consumption Ramadan is a welcome chance to practice restraint, as it is the opposite of indulgence. As such it is a month where we can engage in self-reflection and mental self-flagellation, and hopefully emerge some thirty days later a better person, less prone to excess and hopefully less rapacious.

This is the month where we use the power of fasting to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves (as the youngsters probably say). A key aim is to rebalance our spirituality in order to gain further insight into our faith, a concept best expressed by the Muslim caliph Imam Ali:

Conquer your lustful desires and your wisdom will be perfected. – Imam Ali

With this intention, I am hoping the following list of resources and quotes can insha-Allah (God willing) help us all to make the most of this holy month, myself most definitely included…


Information about the month of Shabaan…

Please see the following PDF file about the month of Shabaan, from the excellent book The Best Of Times by Muhammad Khan. Please read this in order to make the best of this blessed month, and to prepare ourselves for the main event of Ramadan.


Islamic lectures…

An excellent lecture about Ramadan is Preparing For Ramadan by Shaykh Zahir Mahmood (scroll down the kalamullah.com page please in order to get to this particular lecture).

Another excellent lecture is from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf called Ramadan Advice.


Websites…

A useful website with loads of really good practical hints and tips is http://productivemuslim.com.

I came across a really good website where if you type in a post code it will show you the qibla direction: http://www.qib.la/.


Files…

Five files that will insha–Allah provide some good information:

Complete Guide To Ramadhan

Laylatul-Qadr – guide

Ramadhaan checklist

Ramadhaan preparation pack

Ramadhaan Ashra Duas


OVERALL…

Know that you only get out of Ramadan what you are willing to put in. So, before Ramadan begins, please make time to read the articles and listen to the lectures highlighted above.

Also, I guess we are all hoping this year Ramadan proves to be somewhat different from last year. However, considering how things are going, I reckon this year will pretty much the same. We shall wait and see.

Finally, here are some quotes to hopefully inspire us all further. Enjoy!


Despite the exhortations about being more conscientious during Ramadan, the most shocking thing is that food waste actually rises during the holy month…We need to start recognising the dissonance between what we say Ramadan is, and what we actually do during those 30 days…Fundamentally, the answer is rooted in Ramadan traditions that already exist: share with those who really need the food. The increase in the amount given to charity during the month of fasting is testament to people’s generosity and open-heartedness. It’s also the key to re-thinking how we share our iftars. Instead of having excessive meals on our own, we can think about how to distribute it. – Shelina Janmohamed

Imam al-Ghazālī said the real fasting is not the fasting of the tongue or the stomach but the fasting of the heart, whereby we discipline our heart from feasting on prohibited thoughts and on doubt; despair; anxiety; and most of all, fear of losing what we have. Indeed we could lose it all, but if we have God, we haven’t lost anything. Fear and doubt and anxiety plague all of us, and Ramadan is an opportune time to discipline and disinfect our hearts. This is a month of trust in God, of letting light into our hearts. Let us make this month a time of prayer and peace, a time to recite and reflect on the Qur’an, and a time to seek refuge in God. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

It’s very important for us to remember that this is a time of tawba, of repentance, and Ramadan is really one of the most opportune times of the year to do that. So take this as a time of repentance…This virus has reminded us of the temporality of our life on earth, that all of us every day are facing our mortality. The Prophet said in a hadith that Imam Nawawi put as one of the foundational hadith in our tradition, that if you wake up in the morning don’t expect to go to sleep at night, and if you go to sleep at night don’t expect to wake up in the morning. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Ramadan is a time for contemplation, taking stock of our eating habits and giving to charity. In the western world, we have such an excess of food. We seem to have a culture of ‘living to eat rather than eating to live’. We are fortunate to have so much food at our disposal, whenever and wherever we need. But what about those people less fortunate than us? In many Muslim countries, come sunset when the fast breaks, mosques and restaurants open up their doors and feed the poor for free. I think that’s a wonderful way of giving back. – Parveen “The Spice Queen” Ashraf

Ramadan is a time where we remember to give back and try and feel how it feels to be closer to God, and to remember all the blessings that we’ve been blessed with. It’s something that the Muslim community and individuals really look forward to. It’s something that comes from their heart. It’s a time when we find ourselves connecting with God more because we’re starving our bodies but we’re feeding our soul with God. – Haris Ansari

Ramadan is not a temporary increase of religious practice. It is a glimpse of what you are capable of doing every day. – Shaykh Abdul Jabbar

Ramadan is the time to reflect on the Qur’an and to recommit ourselves to the sacred, well-trodden path, the path of the prophets, the path of people who were closest to God. When we fast, we connect ourselves with an unbroken chain of tradition in a deep and sacred bond with every seeker of God, from the beginning of time to the end of time, to rescue ourselves and to allow ourselves to be rescued by God—that is why this is a blessed month. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Religious fasting traditions — from Ramadan (Islam) to Ekadasi (Hinduism) to Yom Kippur (Judaism) and Lent (Christianity) — are meant to unburden believers from day-to-day compulsions, drawing them closer to their conscience…Ramadan is a month-long spiritual odyssey that is meant to rejuvenate us, both physically and morally. It enables us to detach from worldly pleasures to invest our time in intense prayer, charity and spiritual discipline and focus on our deeds, thoughts and actions…The fast is a reminder of the fragility of the human life and is meant to foster a relationship with God…It teaches us about patience, self-restraint, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. The act of fasting for spiritual prowess makes us conscious, not just of our food habits, but of our thoughts, behaviour and interactions throughout the day. Ramadan helps us hone our patience because, by refraining from consumption throughout the day, we learn the benefit of refraining from gratifying each of our desires in the moment. – Moin Qazi

The Islamic month of Ramadan is here, and I am excited by the calmness and reflection that this month brings. Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, is considered the holiest month for Muslims. It is a time where we fast, not just from eating food, but also from our worldly desires including things like shopping, or watching television — it’s a time very similar to that of Lent for Christians. This month is dedicated to feeding our souls through reading more, praying more, and being more patient and kind to everyone, while attaching ourselves more to God. It is a month that is dedicated to spiritually grooming yourself to be a better person for the rest of the year — contrary to the bigoted perceptions that exist against Muslims. – Imani Bashir

The less fasts certain people keep during Ramadhaan, the more eager they seem to be to celebrate Eid. – Anon

The most common question I get from people of different faiths has to be why we fast. Many people answer this question with a response, “to feel how the poor feel when they have nothing to eat.” Personally, I think that since fasting in Ramadan is not that difficult, it is almost an insult to claim that it is to feel the poor’s hunger. The hunger they feel is much greater, especially since they may not know when their next meal will come. Fasting is a means to gain something called Taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that means many things, such as being aware that Allah (our word for God) has full knowledge of your actions and intentions. In Islam, Allah has knowledge of everything we do and even think. Fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It is understanding that Allah has full knowledge. And because of this, we must navigate through the world with caution of our actions and intentions – to be good to our fellow human beings and to yourself. All of our deeds and intentions should be virtuous and for the sake of Allah. Ramadan is an opportune time to be able to reflect and be more aware of this. – Dr Magda Abdelfattah, May 2018, from an interview in the Wisconsin Muslim Journal

The question I get asked most in Ramadan is, “You can’t drink even a sip of water?” People think that models don’t eat anyway, and so Ramadan should be easy, but that’s not true. For a start, you always end up putting on weight because your body craves heavy, greasy carbs at iftar and then you can’t move afterwards. My mum always says when we’re piling our plates up, “You won’t finish that!”…I look after my body and always eat while I’m on shoots, so this month will be a test, but the peace you feel during Ramadan is beautiful. It’s difficult to explain, because most people can’t get past the idea of no food or drink, but you gain so much spiritually. It’s a different, calmer perspective. You put yourself in the shoes of people who live this reality every day and it reminds you to be grateful and patient. – Asha Mohamud, British-Somali model

This month of Ramadan is about asking “Where is your heart?” Is your heart with God? Is your heart with your own ego? Is your heart with your lust? Is your heart with your passion? Is your heart with your greed? Is your heart with your pride? Is your heart with your envy? Is it with your resentment? Is it with your desire for revenge? “Where is your heart?” That is the question this month is asking us: “Where is your heart?” And this time that we have been given, a few days of reflection, this is the time when you can actually go into yourself, and dig into yourself and ask that question: “Where is your heart?” Because as Sayyidina Ali said “A man lies hidden under his tongue”, because the tongue expresses what is in the heart…“Whoever loves a thing does much remembrance of it”. If you love Allah, God is on your tongue. If you love the world, the world is on your tongue. That is the question: “Where is your heart?” This is the time to return to God, to give the heart back to the One who possesses the heart. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

This Ramadan, as grown-ups consciously slow down, turn inward and nurture their inner spirit, one of the important responsibilities is to also inculcate in children the true essence of Ramadan. The values of sharing, generosity and charity are as integral to adults as they are to children. In fact, the sooner children are taught these values, the better will they grow up into compassionate individuals. Like a muscle in the body that gets stronger through exercise, compassion too grows with every act done in its guiding spirit. – Jumana Khamis

Tribulations test all of us, and we pass the test by placing our hope and trust in God alone…We are the inheritors of a tradition of hope, and our beloved Prophet ﷺ was the most hopeful of men. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

We have become like gerbils in the dunya, chasing after things…The job of the dunya is to make you unstable…the more you become immersed in this dunya, the more you become invested in this dunya, then the more unstable you become…Some scholars have said that jahiliya is to see something and to perceive it as something else, that this is ignorance…in Islam true knowledge is to perceive something as it really is, as best you can…people who immerse themselves in this dunya have immersed themselves in a lie, and they are getting played like a piano on Sunday school, and that is why they are not stable…this dunya calls you to become people who are completely insecure with themselves…Fasting and Ramadhaan call us to be stable. – adapted from a speech by Imam Suhaib Webb

We observe that in the scriptures, fasting almost always is linked with prayer. Without prayer, fasting is not complete fasting; it’s simply going hungry. – Joseph B Wirthlin

Western society could learn a lot about the struggles of others through the practice of Ramadan. We have a lot of ease in our society, a lot of comfort, but during Ramadan, people all around us are showing self-control and restraint and sacrifice when they practise their religion. It’s about being uncomfortable in your practice of faith, and there’s a lesson in that. During my research for the book, I was very surprised at the lack of science and studies about what fasting does physiologically to the body, especially considering how many people in the world are Muslim and adhere to Ramadan. – Brigid Delaney, author of Wellmania: Misadventures In The Search Of Wellness

What I wish more people knew is that the practices and teachings of Islam are rooted in love. For many other Muslims and I, holding onto traditional practices in a society that is becoming more and more secular is important. Ramadan is a part of my culture, whether I’m feeling particularly close to Islam as a religion or not. Because of this, it has become something that grounds me each year. Fasting teaches Muslims self-discipline, patience, and the value of the things we take for granted every day. It’s a time period during which I tap into empathy, compassion, and ultimately how to value these concepts not just one month out of the year, but all the time. Each year, Ramadan seems to arrive when I least expect it, but also when I need its reminders and inspiration the most. Telling me to harness and redirect all the energy I aimlessly put into superficial and immediate gratification, into something greater than myself. Fasting teaches all Muslims restraint and self-discipline. It teaches me that Islam — like the moon when I search for it each night — will always be there. – Nadra Widatalla

What motivates you? What makes you tick? This is what our Prophet (SAW) called niyah (intention). What is your intention? What is your niyah? What do you want when you’re doing something? What’s your intention for fasting? What is your intention for giving money? Once you begin to address the essence of your own being, you can begin to understand who you are, and that’s why self-knowledge is foundational in our religion. If you don’t know who you are, you’re certainly not going to know whose you are. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Whether it’s in theatre, comedy, sports, music or politics, Muslims are challenging the traditional stereotypes and showing that they are, and want to be, a part of the mainstream community. That’s why I urge people, particularly during Ramadan, to find out more about Islam, increase your understanding and learning, even fast for a day with your Muslim neighbour and break your fast at the local mosque. I would be very surprised if you didn’t find that you share more in common than you thought. Muslims are at the heart of every aspect of society. Their contribution is something that all Londoners benefit from. Muslim police officers, doctors, scientists and teachers are an essential part of the fabric of London. There are valuable lessons that people of all backgrounds can learn from Islam such as the importance of community spirit, family ties, compassion and helping those less fortunate, all of which lie at the heart of the teachings of Ramadan. – Boris Johnson, May 2019, whilst on an official visit to the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre

2020 WAS A TIME WARP TRAPPED BY CHAOS

Just over 50 years ago, way back in November of 1971, a song was released by John Lennon called “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”. Now a firm Christmas classic, it opens with the following lines…

So this is Christmas

And what have you done?

Another year over

And a new one just begun

And so this is Christmas

I hope you have fun

The near and the dear one

The old and the young

A very Merry Christmas

And a happy New Year

Let’s hope it’s a good one

Without any fear

Having lived through 2020, it feels like the opening two lines take on somewhat of a new and depressing edge. In fact, on closer inspection, so does the whole song, for how many of us can truly say that 2021 will be “a good one” and “without any fear”?

The year 2020 Anno Domini has been many things to many people. The year started with Australian bush fires that killed millions of animals and destroyed thousands of trees. And there was also talk of World War 3 after Trump ordered the killing of Iranian army general Qasem Soleimani via an airstrike on the 3rd of January. Who knew that, looking back, these would the happier, more feel-good stories of the year?

Another way to look at 2020 is that it started with a global flu and ended with an American coup. This is the year when conspiracy theories well and truly went mainstream (cue QAnon). We also moved our lives online: schools, universities, shopping, work, socialising, and the rest. 2020 is also the year of global resistance, mainly due to the brutal death of George Floyd (cue Black Lives Matter, both the movement and the organisation). But mostly it has been the year of Corona, and because of that it has been a crazy, unexplainable 12 months for us all. Pretty much every human on planet earth has been affected in some way, shape, or form.

Using a sporting analogy, a medical expert on CNN recently said that, in regards to COVID-19, 2020 is the first half, Christmas and New Year is half time, and next year is the second half. He added that the second half will be far more intense than the first. Thanks for that, doc. But, hey, at least we now have a few vaccines. Having said that, it’ll still take months to roll these out for everybody, meaning we’re far from done with this pandemic, but at least it’s a start. The light at the end of the tunnel may have shown us just how bad and stinky the tunnel is, but now at least we can see it.

Meanwhile, the pandemic keeps on pandemicing, with the US setting record daily death tolls almost every day, and all experts saying that’ll remain the case well into 2021. In one day alone the US recorded over 3,000 deaths, something not seen since the 11th of September 2001 (too soon?).

The virus should hopefully teach us that we need to curb our capitalist enthusiasms. The backlash from nature is all around us, from wildfires to hurricanes to this global pandemic, no doubt the first of many (cue the various strains).

Likewise, the impact of this virus cannot be understated. It is a Guttenberg press type of social change on a global scale. One of the ways the UK has been impacted is that the number of food banks in the country surpasses the number of McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants combined. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. And these are figures from December 2019, just before COVID-19 hit the UK, so inevitably the situation will be much worse now.

Given the drama surrounding 2020, one of the main things the virus has done is to wreck our sense of time, to the point where a new word was invented to describe which day it is: Blursday. The passage of time itself became seemingly unreliable this year, as some days felt like a week, some weeks felt like a year, yet some months flew by in the blink of an eye. As for an actual year? That seems almost impossible to envision.

One reason for this is that so much absolute unhinged insanity happens on a regular daily basis now that time has thoroughly lost whatever little definition it once had. Every day you feel that ambient anxiety, that existential dread. Every day we have to deal with the combination of a relentless news cycle mixed with the droll, repetitive reality of life in lockdown, all of which has given existence in 2020 a Groundhog Day-esque quality.

2020 somehow managed to be an empty void of nothingness and a global existential crisis, at the same time. It feels like the world has shrunk and expanded around us. TV host Stephen Colbert called 2020 “the year that took years”. Fellow TV host Bill Maher referred to this era of history, 2020 specifically, as “the fuckening”. Meanwhile, Tim Herrera tweeted “Why was Monday 89 hours long but three hours ago it was Tuesday morning?”. Frostbit Desert Frogger (not his real name), when asked what day it was, tweeted “It’s the 76th of March” which weirdly sounds about right somehow.

Despite all I’ve said so far, I am still trying to make sense of it all. I am still trying to find the pulse of the cultural zeitgeist. Not sure how much success I’m having. Hopefully some, if not all, of the following quotes may help in having a better understanding of our world and our current place in it. I have indeed lived through 2020 and in the end, I hope I get more that this lousy blog post to show for it. As best as one can, enjoy…


Whoever said “Life is short” clearly did not spend several months in lockdown with their own kids. – Jason Manford

We can all agree that 2020 has been unlike any other year that many of us can remember or would have ever lived through. Many of the elite world leaders have been as bad as ever, we’ve seen disturbing scenes of social unrest and institutional racism rear its ugly head again, Australia was ravaged by wildfires. Oh, and there was and still is a major pandemic, which completely altered everybody’s life on the planet considerably (and that’s not an understatement) – Greg Evans, 02 Dec 2020, indy100.com

In about two weeks 2020 will be a part of history. As it begins to recede into the past, how will we look back on this blur of a year? No single event in American history seems to have yielded a lost year in the way 2020 has…The monotony, as well as the stress, of this year has made time pass in a peculiar way. Some people I interviewed felt it has flown by, while others felt it has dragged on; sometimes, people said that for them, both of those things seemed true…As they were living through this year, the monotony made time drag on, but when they look back on it, the shortage of distinct memories makes it seem like it flew by…This is one way many people will remember 2020: It was interminable to live through, but swift in retrospect. And as more time passes and the memories people do have degrade, maybe it will start to seem even shorter, and emptier. – Joe Pinsker, 15 Dec 2020, theatlantic.com

2020 wasn’t a great year. It wasn’t even a good one. It straight up sucked, honestly. Sorry to be a bummer, but it’s true: this wasn’t a very funny year. I mean, it was absolutely hilarious in one sense—the darkest, bleakest, blackest sense possible—but if you aren’t into gallows humor you probably struggled to find much to laugh about in 2020. It sucked. It still sucks. It’s going to suck for a while. Shit! – Garrett Martin, 04 Dec 2020, pastemagazine.com

Though it may feel like 2020 has been going on for a year already, or five years, or a century, 2020 is nearly over. The finishing line is just over the horizon. The light is just visible at the end of this horrendously long tunnel, although, bearing in mind all that this year has wrought, the light my well be on oncoming train carrying COVID infested nuclear waste. – YouTube comment

It’s not like a year could ever be characterized as “funny” — there are far too many moving parts for a through line of the hilariously whimsical or gut-bustingly amusing to ever take hold to a point of overwhelming dominance over time and space. The best-case scenario we can hope for, for a year, is mundane and uneventful…and 2020 was not that. One could go so far as to say that 2020 was a terrible, horrible, very bad, no good year. Not only was it an election year with its requisite nastiness, but it was one where a staggering number of people got sick and died, and another staggering number of people responded to that sickness and death with an emphatic “meh.” Shutdowns, lockdowns, isolation, and loneliness were a matter of course for many this year, along with the needs to fill free time, practice self-care, and relieve tension. – Brian Boone, 14 Dec 2020, vulture.com

Time is so broken now that looking back on tweets from five days ago can feel like opening a 30-year-old yearbook, or like reliving something that happened 10 minutes ago. There’s no rhyme or reason: it’s all just constant turmoil, an ever-present maelstrom of stress and nonsense. – Garrett Martin, 13 Nov 2020, pastemagazine.com

“Peloton!! Moderna!! It’s suppertime!!!” Me in 2034 calling my children in for suppertime. – tweet from Julia Shiplett, 14 Dec 2020

I simultaneously want to be awake for everything and asleep all the time. – tweet from Josh Gondelman, 09 Dec 2020

2020 was a time warp. Was it a year, a day, or a millennium? Time itself has felt different this year, our relationship with it altered significantly by the pandemic. Whatever comfort we once derived from considering the past is gone. Now it’s a stark reminder of all that we had, all that we took for granted, and what we must still reckon with — that our future is not likely to look like what we’re used to. Meanwhile, our hours and days dissolve together into some nebulous glob of experience. While time may run on a larger scale around us, we still live in our own intimate worlds. That dislocation in time has become a part of our running discourse, inspiring memes and jokes about not knowing what day it is. They drive home the fact that we’re all truly experiencing the same phenomenon — a sort of time melt. As our usual markers of time vanish, the days feel as though they’ve been whipped through a blender. We are animals living in a social world, and as such, we’ve created strict routines for our lives. We wake up, take the kids to school, commute to work, take lunch breaks, go to the gym, have dinners out. Now, though, any activities we once might have participated in outside the home have been abruptly removed, and we’ve lost the sense of time these seemingly mundane markers once provided. Lunch is whenever. Dinner is whenever. There is no more gym or meals with friends or travel plans. Our days are now simply that: days. – Shannon Stirone, 22 Dec 2020, vox.com

Since the pandemic began, I have felt completely powerless and out of control. It’s like I was picked up by a malign wind and thrown into the sky with little regard for where I might land. Nearly everyone I know has experienced some variation on this feeling in 2020. We are trapped by chaos…I know so many people who better learned to understand themselves when locked away at home this year…This has been a terrible, terrible year, even beyond the pandemic, with seemingly 500 major news stories hitting every other day. There was a presidential election, and then the sitting president (who lost) kept feigning that he might try to hold on to power by any means necessary, and many days, it wasn’t front-page news simply because so much else was happening. (You might have forgotten that he was also impeached this year.)…We will learn nothing from this experience. We will, instead, hurtle so quickly back to our lives as they were that nothing will change in a world where so many things need to change. – Emily VanDerWerff, 16 Dec 2020, vox.com

I know I am not alone in looking forward to the end of this year…Even my mother, a Muslim who wasn’t allowed to celebrate Eid because of the lockdown, bought new sofa cushions with tiny Santa prints to cheer herself up…Yet despite my complicity with the consumerist mood of Christmas, I can’t help thinking that our attitude is symptomatic of a larger problem. We are understandably exhausted and quick to agree that 2020 was a terrible year. But the year itself has morphed into more than just a date in the calendar: it has become the shared enemy of humanity. “2020 needs to pull over and let me out, I’ll walk”, has become one of the most popular memes since at least March. – Lea Ypi, 09 Dec 2020, theguardian.com

Blaming 2020 for our misery obscures the reasons why this year was wretched…With crises like Covid, it’s comforting to point the finger away from ourselves – but we don’t learn by doing so…There have been many times this year when non-human entities have got the blame for the consequences of our actions. In January, bats in Wuhan got the blame for Covid-19. But the idea that animals are solely responsible for the spread of the virus obscures the truth…There is something soothing about finding a common enemy in a non-human entity…We’ve long blamed providence or nature for the consequences of human action. In 1755, a devastating earthquake in Lisbon killed tens of thousands of people, triggering an important philosophical and theological debate about God’s intentions and the presence of evil in the world. It was a turning point in the optimistic outlook which characterised the spirit of the Enlightenment. As the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau remarked in one of his letters, “the majority of our physical misfortunes are our work”. By blaming things that have no agency, we render ourselves unable to learn from the crisis. For all we know, the next decade could bring worse years. As the climate emergency unfolds, it is increasingly likely this will be framed as a conflict between nature and humanity rather than the result of a social system that puts profits before survival. – Lea Ypi, 09 Dec 2020, theguardian.com

Covid has already disrupted so much of how we live. It has altered something else, as well – time itself. Not so long ago, we had merely months and years. Things happened in November or in December, last year or this. Some events are so big that they divide the world into before and after, into the present and an increasingly alien past. Wars do this, and the pandemic has, too. Coronavirus has cut a trench through time. The very recent past is suddenly another country. Now, amateur archaeologists of our own existence, we sort through our possessions and stumble on small relics from “then”, that strange place we used to live: a bus pass, a lipstick, a smart watch, a pair of shoes with the heels worn down, work clothes that, after just six months in stretchy active-wear, feel as stiff and preposterous as whalebone…Many moments of happiness are about anticipation, the joy of the imagined future – and distracting ourselves from the tedious, exhausting or difficult present. Yet even our small consumer choices or our musings about what to do this weekend now bring us back to the big, overpowering reality of the pandemic. We cannot escape it. Our daydreams have come crashing back to earth: 2020 is the year that the future was cancelled. – Catherine Nixey, 27 Nov 2020, economist.com

AMERICA HAS ALWAYS ELECTED A BULLY

So, Trump has finally conceded the election. Sorta. Kinda. Maybe. Perhaps. And thus ends America’s encounter with the reality of 2016-vintage populist nationalism. His kooky cuckoo coup crew (as comedian Seth Meyers calls them) have failed for now in their openly ludicrous and vile attempt to subvert the will of the American electorate. But only just, which does not bode well for the future. Thanks to them the cracks in western democracy deepen and darken ever more. And God only knows why he is desperately trying to hold on to a job he has not done, currently is not doing, clearly has no intention of doing, and never really wanted in the first place.

Make no mistake, this is a coup, a slow moving one at that (it’s been in progress since January 2016). One person is refusing to accept the people’s will, and he’s taking power that doesn’t belong to him. That’s a coup! Luckily for us it’s a coup as if it were done by the Marx Brothers on a bad day. Somewhat of a “low-energy coup” if you will, which further proves that Trump is still more farce than tragedy, still a two-dimensional toned-down Beer Hall Putsch-plotting phony fascist wannabe. If this were happening in some third world shithole country the global media would not think twice about calling it for what it is, an outright coup, which has resulted in people making bitter jokes on social media such as “America is faster at choosing other countries’ presidents”. Touché my friend, touché.

Thanks to Trump and his cronies the American republic is fast turning into a banana republic. It’s like watching the last days of Rome, but at digital hyperspeed. The only difference is that during the Great Fire of Rome Emperor Nero played the fiddle, and during the Great Fires of America (literal wild fires and metaphorical ones due to the pandemic) Emperor Zero plays golf every weekend. And I do mean every weekend. And people thought the last days of Nixon were dark! In reality, however, Trump could never be a dictator, or an emperor, or a fascist: he just isn’t disciplined enough to maintain the image. Having said all that, as bad as he may think he is, there are still plenty of parts of the Middle East where Trump would be considered nothing more than a liberal tree hugger.

America has also reached a point of utter mutual incomprehension between it’s two factional halves. The party of Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, and John McCain, is no more. In its place we now have the sycophantic cult of King Donnie-Do-Nothing, a psycho beauty pageant queen who refuses to let go of the tiara. He obviously thinks of himself as the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms. Who knows how long it will take for the Republifascist party to recover, if it ever does? What will the Republican party look like without Trump? Can Republicans emerge from Trump’s shadow or will Trumpism loyalists’ soldier on regardless? And just how large will the shadow be that Trump and his clan cast?

Far from being the shiny-shiny beacon of western democracy, the US system is actually really weird, which is why the 2020 election strangely feels like a built-in coup, but then again America constitutionally coups itself every election. As Ashton Kutcher would probably never say, “You’ve been coup’d!” Or, for the younger and trendier among you, to paraphrase my fellow Muslim DJ Khaled, “Congratulations America, you played yourself.”

Architecturally, the Trump government is simply not normal. And Trump as a president is about as far from normal as we have ever seen, and hopefully will ever see. But every tweet, every press conference, every firing, every unholy pardon, all twist him and his government further out of any recognisable political shape.

And where will the 73 million plus deplorable volk who voted for him go now? Will Trump take his supporters (and maybe even some of the GOP) over the proverbial cliff in a sort of collective rapturous sacrificial martyrdom? For Trump supporters, home is where the hate is, and as long as Trump continues to hate, they will continue to donate. As long as poor white Americans have little hope of a better life, they will continue to seek a leader in his mould. Little do they realise that whatever promises Trump made on the threshold of the White House, once inside he spent four years giving billions in tax cuts to rich people and trying to deprive millions of low-paid Americans of decent healthcare. For the poor whites who put him in power, Trump had nothing to offer apart from a mutual love of casual racism. But as long as Trumpland exists, it will need a Trump. And who knows, the next white saviour may be even worse.

Because he did not campaign quietly, nor did he rule quietly, and as such there is no way he will go quietly. His concession speech will no doubt be like the end of Scarface. But worry not, come January 20th 2021 Trump the person will be gone and Sleepy Creepy Joe Biden will take over the reins. But his odorous ideology of Trumpism will still be around. The underlying problems that caused his political rise clearly still remain. Unless the opposition can offer a viable alternative, the spectre of Trumpism will continue to haunt the western world’s first banana republic.

Stephen King, the most successful horror writer ever, recently said that he thinks Trumpism is way scarier than any of his novels. Having read quite a few King novels in my time, that is high praise indeed. But once Biden is in charge, how much will truly change? Will Biden be handicapped by the antics being pulled by Trump to kneecap the incoming administration? Time, as it always does, will tell.

One thing which remains fairly clear is that for many parts of the world the American president, whomever that person is, will always be somewhat of a bully. Witness the recent demonstrations in Tehran where people are burning the flags of America and Israel, along with pictures Trump and Joe Biden. I’ll let the brilliant Karachi based Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif explain further below. Along with the quote from Hanif please also find other quotes that hopefully shed some light on the world right now. As best as one can with all that is going on, enjoy…

The rest of the world has had it with US presidents, Trump or otherwise…No matter who’s in the White House, their task is the same: fight the evil that is all of us who aren’t American…The US has always elected a bully, nurtured him and asked him to go out in the world and do the presidential thing: fight the evil that is the rest of us. At the same time they have expected their president to be nice at home, have mercy on their Thanksgiving turkey and keep talking about the American dream and affordable healthcare. Abroad, US presidents have wrought havoc, invaded and destroyed places whose names they could never pronounce, hosted murderous dictators from around the world at Camp David and found even more bloodthirsty ones to replace them. Trump has just brought all that bullying home…Americans are the world’s biggest entertainers, but seem to get bored easily and in their fabled innocence go around the world destroying places in order to save them. At home they keep telling themselves that it’s time to make a choice but, in reality, what choices do they have? Trump makes the US look bad, makes the US look too white, makes the US speak bad English, makes the US look ill-mannered, greedy, overweight. But as far as many of us around the world are concerned, even if he loses, it’s not a sign that the US is about to change; it really just heralds a bit of a makeover. The US needs a lean mascot, someone who wears better suits, who is not as overtly racist. US presidents are like the boss who goes to work terrorising his employees but comes home to spread sunshine and love. Deal with Trump by all means, lock the door and throw away the key. Elect the person you believe will save the US soul – but don’t send him out into the world to save us. – Mohammed Hanif, 03 Nov 2020, theguardian.com

The online content that people see has profound real-world consequences. Much of this content reinforces hyper-partisan, bespoke realities, in which people inside each bubble barely even encounter information that might challenge their preconceptions. This is bad for democracy, which is built on dialogue—on the belief that even when citizens argue about the merits of a politician or the specifics of a policy, they ultimately use the act of voting to decide on a shared direction. Democracy also assumes that people on the losing side will accept the loss, not retreat into an alternate reality in which their candidate won. No amount of content moderation by Facebook can make up for the president’s refusal to concede and his most die-hard supporters’ inability to see any reason why he should. The conspiracy theory that the president-elect is illegitimate and the election was stolen is being reframed as reality, and millions of Americans keep buying it. – Renée Diresta, 23 Nov 2020, theatlantic.com

The last days of Rome. Sodom and Gomorrah. Hitler’s bunker. Brookside. History is littered with cultural apocalypses and each instance is tied together by an enlightening common thread. That when all the cards have been played, the curtain is falling and the endgame looms, the damned will always revert to primal instinct – seeing out their last with a panicked frenzy of mass fornication. – Bill Bain, Dec 2018, heraldscotland.com

He lost. We’ll have to stop obsessing about him…Our contempt for Donald Trump is too finely honed at this point, too essential a part of our psyche. Who would we be — conversationally, politically — without it?…I’m not talking just about journalists. An obsession with Trump as the brute of all evil extends far beyond us…It turned his rise and reign into an all-consuming international soap opera with ratings not just through the roof but also through the stratosphere. No public figure in my lifetime has made such a monopolizing claim on our attention, even our souls…I worry that in the wake of Trump’s presidency, which both reflected and intensified the furious pitch of American politics, melodrama may be the new normal. I worry that while Americans are exhausted by it, we’re also habituated to it; that we’ll manufacture it where it doesn’t exist. – Frank Bruni, 21 Nov 2020, nytimes.com

2016 was a very bad year, and it was. It was terrible. But this year? Holy shit! This has been a lot. For me, it’s felt like the world has somehow both shrunk and expanded around me. I don’t see anyone, I don’t do anything, and I have no idea what’s going to happen next…Look, this year has been an absolute parade of misery. In January alone, Australia was being been ravaged by wildfires, Kobe Bryant died, and for a few days it really seemed like America was about to go to war with Iran. That was all this year! And that was before the coronavirus exploded and everything got even worse. Mass unemployment, evictions, that video of those celebrities singing “Imagine.” It was really terrible. On top of which this year saw the deaths of Chadwick Boseman, John Lewis, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Plus, the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett…This year ruined lives, jobs, concerts, and sanity. It also brought a new wave of wrenching videos of police brutality that brought on a national reckoning with race, and a ferocious and depressing backlash. And sure, the presidential election ended well, but it was grim to live through. And Trump won’t actually leave office till next January. 2020 was absolutely terrible. And I really hope next year is going to be better, but the truth is, what happens next is up to all of us. It’s going to depend how willing we are to fight, how well we learn from what’s happened, and how much we are able to care about each other. So I don’t know what happens next…Let tomorrow be about solutions. – John Oliver, 15 Nov 2020, from his TV show Last Week Tonight From John Oliver

The age of Trump was an ugly one. An ugliness in profound and harrowing senses – racism, lies and callousness – extended into a literal ugliness that, while in no way as significant as the president’s actions, has often made the past four years feel like an assault on the senses. This administration has looked and sounded like no other, just as it has acted like no other. The nastiness of Trump’s pronouncements has many times been made more shocking by his language: the barked, capitalised tweets littered with errors and exclamation marks; the misogyny underscored by snickering profanity. Every unmasked public appearance has been a visceral reminder of a shirking of leadership and responsibility in the face of a public health crisis…The past four years in US politics have been tough to watch on many levels. The changing of the guard in the White House is a sight for sore eyes. – Jess Cartner-Morley, 11 Nov 2020, theguardian.com

The constant barrage of Trump’s norm-busting presidency has caused a collective numbness that accepts institutional impotence, renders objective facts relative and decouples actions from their consequences. Like it’s all become a game. Now after four years where almost anything has gone, Americans and their friends across the world wait to see if those institutions can withstand a final barrage of orchestrated chaos and whether what emerges from the election is democracy or a paler imitation. It is impossible to look away as we are, all of us, drawn into the orange vortex…Many of us have been drawn into the drama as bemused onlookers. – Peter Lewis, 03 Nov 2020, theguardian.com

FOR EVERY ABDULLAKH THERE IS A SHEZAN

A tribute to my brother in law…

Ever since 2016 the global news headlines have only really focused on three topics: Brexit, Trump, and now the coronavirus. Occasionally the topic of Islam sneaks its way to the top of the news broadcast, if only for a day or two, and never in a good way. The most recent example is that of Samuel Paty, a 47-year-old French history-geography professor and secondary school teacher, who was horrifically decapitated outside his school on Friday 16th of October in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, 25km north-west of Paris.

Paty also gave the obligatory courses in “moral and civil education” and it was as part of these, on Tuesday the 6th of October, while talking about freedom of speech that the professor showed pupils, aged 12 to 14, two caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad originally published by the controversial satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Paty offered Muslim students the chance to leave his classroom before showing the cartoons. Despite this his lesson was followed not only by complaints from a number of parents (one family even lodged a legal complaint) but a video was also uploaded by a parent to the internet. Police further confirmed the teacher had been the target of threats ever since this incident.

His killer was Abdullakh Anzorov, an 18-year-old from Moscow of Chechen origin, who lived some 60 miles away and thus had no obvious connection to the school. Anzorov was shot dead by police shortly after the attack. The killing stunned France and led to an outpouring of support at memorial ceremonies and marches around the country. President Emmanuel Macron hailed Paty as “a quiet hero” and “the face of the Republic” at a recent event in Paris. He then presented the teacher’s family with the nation’s highest honour, the Légion d’honneur. Macron has gone on to say that France’s battle against Islamic terrorism is “existential” and he vows to make sure terrorists do not cause further division in France, which has a resolutely secular civic culture.

It is difficult to convey the sheer horror of the decapitation. Such extreme violence is designed to terrorise and traumatise, and so it does, to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. However, and please believe me when I say this, for every one Muslim such as Anzorov there are literally thousands of Muslims who are the complete opposite: kind, caring, compassionate, law abiding, and loving.

One such person was Shezan Hussain, my brother-in-law who passed away recently on Tuesday the 6th of October, the same day Paty gave his lesson on freedom of speech. Shezan leaves behind a widow, an 8-year-old daughter, a 2-year-old son, and a grieving family. His death has come as a sudden shock to us all, something we will never truly be able to comprehend. I know it is common for people to over-eulogise someone after they pass away, but he was genuinely one of the good ones. He loved my two sons as much as any uncle could, and for that alone I pray for him nothing but Paradise. For those of you who are religious, please also pray for him.

He was buried in Handsworth cemetery in Birmingham on Sunday the 18th of October. Standing there in the grounds of the cemetery I looked around and realised it was impossible to know who the richest person in the graveyard was. No idea as to who was humble, arrogant, black, white, pious, sinful, or anything else. The only thing for sure is that they are down there and I, for the time being, am still above ground. For the time being.

Such was the intensity of events that my eldest son, a teenager, my first born, my own flesh and blood, fainted at the graveyard whilst the selected group of mourners stood over his grave, both hands held open and aloft, praying for our brother/cousin/uncle/nephew/brother-in-law * (delete as appropriate). In a split second my son transformed before my very eyes from a living teenage boy to a dead weight. Happily, he is feeling much better now. My son only fainted yet my heart just went. I found myself shaking, trembling, breathing erratically, trying to hold back my tears. It was only then that I thought God only knows how my mother-in-law must be feeling knowing her youngest, her baby, has actually passed away.

I hope Shezan understands how lucky he is to have such a prestigious Islamic funeral, one where a great number of people showed such love and care to his deceased body as well as to his memory. I honestly believe that Islam is the only religion that offers such love to the body of someone who passes away.

I would like to dedicate this blog post (and any good that comes from it) to Shezan. Please find below selected quotes from my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. I hope they act as a reminder to Muslims like myself and, who knows, maybe non-Muslims will get a spiritual kick out of them too. Read them and see. I hope that by benefitting myself and others in this life, they somehow benefit my dearly departed brother-in-law in the next life. Rest in peace, Shezan. And, considering all that is going on, enjoy…


My mother basically taught myself and my brothers and sisters that religion is often very an arbitrary thing, that you’re born into a family and you’re told certain things and you grow up believing those things to be true. But it’s really in essence far more arbitrary then we’d like to imagine. And so she really raised us to be open-minded about the possibility of truth being outside of one’s own experience.

One of the things about practice is that practice should make us better at what we’re doing, but we forget that spirituality is also a practice and that we should be getting better at what we’re doing. Our prayers should be more present. Our fasting should get us closer to our Lord. Each year that Ramadan comes upon us should be better than the year that preceded it. This is our hope and may Allah realize it in us.

You have to know before you can love. And then once you love you want to serve. That is the nature of love.

You have to have scholars that are really deeply rooted in the Islamic tradition. We’re not living in the pre-modern times, we are living in a completely different period, and it’s not reforming or changing Islam, it’s actually taking the tools of the religious tradition and revitalising them. And so in that way it’s renewal, which our Prophet talked about, renovation, which is called ‘tajdeer’ in the Arabic language. So we need renovation, which is not to destroy the house and rebuild a new house but to restore the dereliction of the house, so that it is functioning. You turn on the faucets and water comes out. You flush the toilet…there’s a lot of toilets that need to be flushed.

When it comes to knowledge and understanding, there are four types of people, there is no fifth. First there are those who know and know they know, and those are teachers, so learn from them. Second there are those who know and do not know they know, and those are people that are heedless of their knowledge, so remind them so that we can all benefit from them. Third there are those who do not know and know they do not know, and those are students, so teach them. Fourth there are those who do not know and think they know, and those are fools, so avoid them. And this fourth category is a problem, jahil-murakah, it is one of the six foundations of kufr, compounded ignorance. And we all suffer from compounded ignorance at some level. Nobody is immune to that. We can misunderstand things and think we have understood them. But when that is your overriding problem then you have a serious problem.

Western people think that religion is a scaffolding that we built our civilization with and now that it’s built we can get rid of the scaffolding. I think there’s a very strong argument that it is the civilization, and if you get rid of it you’re left with buildings that are devoid of meaning. I think that’s what a lot of Western people are struggling with. The Muslims don’t have that crisis. Their crisis is that buildings are derelict but they still have meaning in them. And they don’t have the wherewithal to renovate. Renovation is a beautiful word, because in the Islamic tradition people are called to renovate, to renew.

We can’t determine our circumstances but we can determine our responses to our circumstances, and I think that is the essential meaning: if you really truly believe then no matter what God throws at you, like Job, Ayoub in the Qur’an, no matter what God throws at you, you do not question God. And this for the Muslim is absolutely essential, that the verse in the Qur’an says God will not be asked about what He does but you will be asked about what you do.

I didn’t choose the family I came into. My family was highly educated so that enabled me, for instance my language skills are just going to be naturally better because I grew up listening to articulate parents. I didn’t choose those, so each one of us gets circumstances that we are given but what we do with those circumstances, this is what is going to determine the merit or the medal of our character.

We can actually bring calamities and tribulations upon ourselves. We bring calamities upon ourselves and then we blame others for it. It’s like somebody who eats poorly and they don’t exercise and they do all these horrible things and they don’t rest enough. And then they get sick and they say “Oh, Allah has tried me with illness.” The reality of it is that YOU made yourself ill. So if you were exercising, if you were eating well, if you were getting good sleep, if you were doing all the right things, and then you got sick, that’s ibtidah from Allah. But if you aren’t doing any of those things and then you get sick, you have no one to blame but yourself. And that’s why the Prophet said “Whoever finds good let him praise Allah (because all good is from Allah), but whoever finds other than good let him only blame himself.” This is a sahih hadith.

There are insane Christians that say they represent Christianity. Did Rabbi Kahane represent Judaism? Baruch Goldstein, who killed all those people in the masjid: did he represent Judaism? There are a lot of people who claim to represent something. They don’t represent anybody but themselves.

The crisis of this ummah is to do with adab, which is a loss of prioritisation, because when you put yourself first, everything else is chaos. When you are your major concern, everything else is chaos. This is not to negate the concept of taking care of your soul, but in reality taking care of your soul is taking care of other souls. Taking others into consideration, that’s nurturing your own soul, that’s how you work on yourself.

When you understand people’s nature it helps you to be more compassionate with them, it helps you to understand them better.

The one that knows his self knows his Lord. If you know your servanthood, if you know your dependence then you understand the independence of God. If you know your insignificance then you understand the significance of God. If you know your place in the world then you understand the place that God should have in your heart. That self-knowledge is very important.

We are now witnessing the disintegration of the family in the West. One of the things that really strikes me—I was just in Turkey, and people just look normal. And when I come back to my country, I feel like I’m in a freak show. What I realized recently was I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that in the Muslim world children still grow up with two parents and the mother is actually home so they get all the attention they need when they’re young and they don’t need to do all these attention-grabbing antics when they get older. Whereas in the West so many people don’t get that attention when they’re young so they spend the rest of their life looking. “Look at me, I have to tattoo my whole body to get people to look at me because I didn’t get the gaze of the significant other when I was a child so now I need the gaze of the insignificant others as an adult.” The Qur’an is an incredible book. It is in essence our GPS on the road of life. In essence it is a book that provides us with a map and, with guided direction, it literally tells you what to do. It is a book that takes a great deal of time to learn how to access. It is not something that comes immediately to you but it will begin to open itself up to you the more you give to it. The more you give to the Qur’an the more it will give back to you.

ISLAM SAVED JEWRY. THIS IS A HISTORICAL TRUTH

Fatiha

As always, I’ve been reading articles online and off. Below are five carefully chosen such articles that I hope you will enjoy. The first one deals with what Islam historically has done for Judaism. Much has been written in the press recently about Israel and various pro-Muslim countries signing agreements with the Jewish state. Depending on how you see this, it is either a historic step in the right direction, or an insulting slap in the face to Palestinians and Muslims around the world. Whatever your viewpoint, this article provides a wider perspective on the relationship between these two great Abrahamic faiths over the centuries.

The second article is a personal piece about life and faith during the holy Muslim month of Ramadhaan earlier this year. As we all know, this year we had to deal with a global pandemic which, at least for this writer, weirdly enhanced her sense of community, despite the loneliness felt by all Muslims during the holy month in 2020.

The third article is all about a fortune-teller in Kabul called Arab Shah (his email signature reads “Sayed Arab Shah, Hypnotherapist”). We often hear of Muslims all over the world using the nefarious practices of people such as fortune-tellers, and this brilliant article goes into detail about how such practices actually work in the Afghan capital.

Fourth on the list, we have the excellent Tim Harford writing about how, all too often, our feelings get in the way of how we deal with facts. This, I’m sure we can all agree, is an important topic in this current age of increasing division, where we fail to agree on basic factual truths due to our increasingly volatile emotions.

Lastly, we have Imam Omar Suleiman, a calm voice of spiritual reason, giving us his take on the father of Jacob Blake reciting the opening chapter of the Qur’an in a vigil held for his son, who was shot seven times in the back by American police officers.

Whilst only the second and last articles are presented in full, all are well worth reading in full. As best as one can given, you know, everything going on in the world right now, enjoy…


So, What Did The Muslims Do For The Jews?

David J Wasserstein, 24 May 2012, thejc.com

Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity – also in Christendom – through the medieval period into the modern world.

Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.

But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.

Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.

In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.

Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.

In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere – in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.

The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.


Lessons From A Ramazan In Quarantine

Maham Hasan, 22 May 2020, vanityfair.com

The month of fasting and reflection can be difficult in America. But as the global pandemic froze life across the world this year, it also deepened one writer’s sense of community.

Eid-ul-Fitr in the summer is confusing to my senses. The Eid I grew up with in Rawalpindi, Pakistan was always cold. The more I grew, the more the Islamic calendar moved through the seasons, the less cold it became. But my senses have always revolted, craving the cold in my Eid. It never snowed in Pindi. But it was close enough to the north, the last flat urban area before the mountains of Kashmir, that the cold bit and stung. My most vivid memory of Eid is being woken up early by my mother—you never slept-in on Eid—and dozing in front of the gas heater, while bathing water was heated for me on the stove by my nani. To know Pindi’s cold is to have bathed yourself squatting next to a bucket filled with boiling hot water, teeth chattering, steam rising in the cold air, diluting it with cool water, and then dousing yourself with a cup. To know the joy of Eid and Ramazan (with a soft z and not d—native to my Urdu) is doing that happily, even eagerly, as a kid.

I’ve watched the cold slip away quietly from inside this year—Sunday’s Eid will mark the end of my seventh Ramazan in America, third in New York City. And it’s comforting, bizarrely, to realize that perhaps the loneliest Ramazan in recent memory for all Muslims has been the least lonely for me in America.

Ramazan is not a solitary experience. It’s a celebration of restraint and remembering human limitations, even human waste, together. I’ve always rebelled against communal displays of religion, finding them rooted in obligation, pressure, and display. Rebelled so hard at times that I’ve sat on the prayer mat, daydreaming, pretending to pray, rather than actually pray every time I was told to as a teenager. But Ramazan is different. I’ve come to adore Ramazan for its honesty. The socialist in me loving its anti-capitalist nature. If one were to hold up a mirror to people (not unlike what coronavirus and the lockdown have inadvertently done) confronting them with their excess, their capitalistic fervour, the wild waste of lives, even the careless unkindness within relationships, that mirror would be Ramazan.

There’s nothing quite like the communal annual reset of doing that together. A spiritual rebooting. I grew up knowing that everyone in my school, every stranger on the street, all the shop owners in the market, all family members, even the people on the news were all fasting together. Many were going through the motions because that’s what you do: in Ramazan you fast. But just as many were also trying to be better. In Ramazan you acknowledge your failings and try to do more than you normally would.

The point has never been to starve yourself. But feel the hunger so many live with, its earthly control over us, and acknowledge it. In the hope that we’d be compassionate and charitable toward others’ hunger; examine the imbalance and injustice of what we have and others don’t. My nani used to remind me as a kid to not lie, gossip, or backbite in Ramazan. To not feel angry or cuss. To forgive easily and to love deeply. The trick would be to tell the child the angels are keeping score, giving you extra blessings for the good deeds in this month (70 times the regular amount FYI). The hope would be that the behaviour bleeds into the rest of the year.

I still believe that. Ramazan makes me a better person. And I’ve desperately missed that yearly, earnestly, that beautiful call to do better, while building my life in America. It’s hard to not let the hunger be resentful when you’re the only one fasting in an office, in school, or in an apartment with roommates. Harder even when many don’t know it’s Ramazan, what it is, or why one would fast when it’s not for a diet fad.

Ramazan is lonely in America. I know there are robust Muslim communities in the country. But they pale in comparison to having an entire nation fast with you. It’s lonelier yet when I’d see my family and friends in Pakistan and Oman, both home countries to me, gather night after night to break the fast, to prepare for Eid, to cook beautiful feasts for loved ones. Meanwhile I’d watch people eat and drink in front of me all day. Remembering with an ache how in high school, cliques (the most formidable teenage bond) would be abandoned in Ramazan so the girls not fasting (you can skip fasting while you’re on your period) would find quiet corners in the back of classrooms together to eat during break time. This was never to protect or risk offending those fasting, it’s meant to test you after all, but to be gentle and compassionate.

Knowing that this year all my family and friends are bereft of community, stuck at home, and fasting by themselves has selfishly made me feel less alone. This year, they are not celebrating Ramazan in all its usual glory. They’re celebrating it how I’ve had to do in America by myself: cut off from loved ones and everyone else. Being alone, together, has made me want to fast again this year. It’s brought back the joy of Ramazan.

So, when it gets close to the iftar hour in New York City, I call my aunt in Lahore, Pakistan, and she tells me what she just cooked for sehri. Then we reminisce about the times we’d wake up at 3 a.m. and go to Pizza Hut in our pyjamas—which would be packed with bleary-eyed people, also in their pyjamas. Then I call my other aunt and she tells me how sick of cooking she is and she misses the cooking break she’d get from iftar parties. Shortly after my cousin from Paris calls to tell me how painfully long the fasting day has gotten. Then I text my baby brother in Muscat, Oman, who gleefully informs me about the complete junk he’s eating at 3 a.m. to begin his fast. Other times my mother will call me and complain about how my brother doesn’t let her pick from his plate during iftar. These calls still happened the past few years, albeit at a lesser rate, but we all needed each other less. I didn’t want painful reminders of everyone being together for Ramazan and Eid. They had less time and more worldly commitments. Now, coronavirus has equalized the experience of Ramazan. We’re all fasting alone, together.


The Fortune-Teller Of Kabul

May Jeong, 01 Sep 2016, theguardian.com

For centuries mystics have channelled the hopes and fears of Afghans. With the nation in turmoil, their services are as popular as ever. But can they survive the latest crackdown by religious hardliners?

The man named Arab Shah is a fortune-teller – a falbin, a taweez naweez mulla, a djinn hunter – who belongs to a long tradition of men who practise magic said to predate Islam. Spirit mediums inhabit the interstices between the old and the new: in one neighbourhood in old Kabul, a row of falbin fortune-tellers sit receiving visitors just outside a modern medical clinic, to serve those who want to cover all bases. These men – and the occasional woman – are living manifestations of Afghanistan’s complicated relationship with Islam. Before the arrival of Islam in the seventh century, Afghanistan was home to many other belief systems: Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as pagan traditions. These beliefs left their marks on Afghan culture and still resonate today.

Afghans have been going to see fortune-tellers for centuries but reasons for visiting have changed over time. When Arab Shah began telling fortunes nearly two decades ago, most visitors came to see him about matters of love or money; now they chiefly come to ask how they can leave the country. They want Shah to use his vatic powers to tell them which smuggler they should use, and what would be a reasonable fee. Shah serves as a receptacle for the hopes, dreams and desires of Afghans who have lost faith in their country and want to get out.

According to his estimation, Shah sees as many as 1,000 customers a month. Most hear of his service by word of mouth, but others find him through the TV commercials Shah regularly airs on local networks. On these adverts – triumphs of psychedelic music and computer graphics – he promises prospective clients that he could help them quit addictions such as “cigarettes, hashish, or wine”. His clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds. During the time I spent with Shah, his visitors included a man who came to get his daily ration of water blessed, another who worked as a security guard at the presidential palace, a woman whose husband had taken a second wife, a civil servant who came to get his palm read, a boxer who came to seek help for his migraines and a middle-aged woman, a judge, who came complaining of depression.

Shah’s most popular service is a taweez, a tailor-made amulet containing Qur’anic verses that serves as a talisman. The rolled up paper can be used as a good-luck charm as well as for black magic.


Facts V Feelings: How To Stop Our Emotions Misleading Us

Tim Harford, 10 Sep 2020, theguardian.com

The pandemic has shown how a lack of solid statistics can be dangerous. But even with the firmest of evidence, we often end up ignoring the facts we don’t like.

When it comes to interpreting the world around us, we need to realise that our feelings can trump our expertise. This explains why we buy things we don’t need, fall for the wrong kind of romantic partner, or vote for politicians who betray our trust. In particular, it explains why we so often buy into statistical claims that even a moment’s thought would tell us cannot be true. Sometimes, we want to be fooled.

We often find ways to dismiss evidence that we don’t like. And the opposite is true, too: when evidence seems to support our preconceptions, we are less likely to look too closely for flaws. It is not easy to master our emotions while assessing information that matters to us, not least because our emotions can lead us astray in different directions.

We don’t need to become emotionless processors of numerical information – just noticing our emotions and taking them into account may often be enough to improve our judgment. Rather than requiring superhuman control of our emotions, we need simply to develop good habits. Ask yourself: how does this information make me feel? Do I feel vindicated or smug? Anxious, angry or afraid? Am I in denial, scrambling to find a reason to dismiss the claim?

Before I repeat any statistical claim, I first try to take note of how it makes me feel. It’s not a foolproof method against tricking myself, but it’s a habit that does little harm, and is sometimes a great deal of help. Our emotions are powerful. We can’t make them vanish, and nor should we want to. But we can, and should, try to notice when they are clouding our judgment.

“Motivated reasoning” is thinking through a topic with the aim, conscious or unconscious, of reaching a particular kind of conclusion. In a football game, we see the fouls committed by the other team but overlook the sins of our own side. We are more likely to notice what we want to notice. Experts are not immune to motivated reasoning. Under some circumstances their expertise can even become a disadvantage. The French satirist Molière once wrote: “A learned fool is more foolish than an ignorant one.” Benjamin Franklin commented: “So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables us to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to.”

Modern social science agrees with Molière and Franklin: people with deeper expertise are better equipped to spot deception, but if they fall into the trap of motivated reasoning, they are able to muster more reasons to believe whatever they really wish to believe.

If emotion didn’t come into it, surely more education and more information would help people to come to an agreement about what the truth is – or at least, the current best theory? But giving people more information seems actively to polarise them on the question of climate change. This fact alone tells us how important our emotions are. People are straining to reach the conclusion that fits with their other beliefs and values – and the more they know, the more ammunition they have to reach the conclusion they hope to reach.

It’s far easier to lead ourselves astray when the practical consequences of being wrong are small or non-existent, while the social consequences of being “wrong” are severe. It’s no coincidence that this describes many controversies that divide along partisan lines.

It’s tempting to assume that motivated reasoning is just something that happens to other people. I have political principles; you’re politically biased; he’s a fringe conspiracy theorist. But we would be wiser to acknowledge that we all think with our hearts rather than our heads sometimes.

Inflammatory memes or tub-thumping speeches invite us to leap to the wrong conclusion without thinking. That’s why we need to be calm. And that is also why so much persuasion is designed to arouse us – our lust, our desire, our sympathy or our anger. When was the last time Donald Trump, or for that matter Greenpeace, tweeted something designed to make you pause in calm reflection? Today’s persuaders don’t want you to stop and think. They want you to hurry up and feel. Don’t be rushed.


In The Fatiha, Jacob Blake’s Father Cried For Justice And Healing For His Son

Imam Omar Suleiman, 26 Aug 2020, religionnews.com

In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All Praises be to God, Lord of all the worlds

The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Master of the day of judgment

You alone we worship and from you alone, we seek help

Guide us to the straight path

The path of those who have earned your favor, not those who have earned your wrath, nor those who have gone astray.

On Tuesday (Aug. 25), as the father of Jacob Blake spoke to the press, he began with a Muslim prayer from the beginning of the Quran, recited in Arabic, before tearfully reminding the nation and the world that his son matters.

Seven verses to match the seven bullets fired at his son.

Though those who listened may not have understood the words, they felt the anguish in a father’s voice and the cry for healing and justice.

Whether or not Jacob Blake Sr. or Jr. is a Muslim is irrelevant to the situation. What happened to their family is another sign of the systematic dehumanization of Black people in America, and the ever-recurring and unremedied incidents of police brutality.

As Malcolm X said to a Los Angeles audience in the wake of the police killing of Ronald Stokes in 1962, “We’re not brutalized because we’re Baptists. We’re not brutalized because we’re Methodists. We’re not brutalized because we’re Muslims. We’re not brutalized because we’re Catholics. We’re brutalized because we are Black people in America.”

So, to begin, we lend our support to the cause of justice not only for Jacob Blake, but Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Atatiana Jefferson and so many more.

The prayer that Jacob Blake Sr. recited, the Fatiha (which literally means “the opening”), is the first chapter of the Quran and contains seven short verses that are recited at least twice in every Muslim prayer.

In it is an affirmation of God’s supreme mercy and power, and the uttered longing of the sincere servant for God’s guidance and aid.

It is a supplication that defines our relationship with God, and how we are to approach the entirety of the glorious book. It is the “mother of the book” in that it sets the foundation, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), referring to it as the “seven oft-recited verses,” affirmed that it is indeed the greatest chapter in the Quran.

The entirety of the Quran is described as a healing and a mercy — but the Fatiha is specifically recited upon the one who is ill.

Muslim theologians explain this in two ways.

First, that it is the greatest portion of the Quran and preferred for its many virtues. And second, that it specifically contains the words “You alone we worship. And from you alone we seek help.”

As Muslims, we affirm the necessity of taking all means to help ourselves, yet yield in complete humility to God’s wisdom and power once we have done our part.

This is also expressed in a supplication of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that we are taught to say in the morning and in the evening: “Oh Ever-Living One, Oh Ever Sustaining One, in Your Mercy I seek relief. Set all of my affairs right, and do not leave me to myself even for the blink of an eye.”

A tradition behind the Fatiha as a healing prayer also gives us an important concept in Islam — the encouragement to pray for the health of one who is ill, even if they aren’t Muslim.

A companion of the Prophet by the name of Abu Said Al Khudri recounts that while on a journey, a group of companions came across a tribe among the tribes of the Arabs, and that tribe did not show them hospitality.

Suddenly, the chief of that tribe was bitten by a snake or stung by a scorpion. The leader asked the same companions if they had any medicine or anyone among them who could treat the wound.

The companions obliged, reciting the Fatiha upon the wound of the chief. Not only did the cure work, earning the companions on that journey a flock of sheep, but generations of Muslims after them now have an enhanced understanding of the power and breadth of this oft-recited prayer.

It is common to see Muslims reciting the prayer for themselves and for their relatives, Muslim or otherwise, in homes and hospitals with the understanding that God alone ultimately cures.

But what shouldn’t be common is the news conference in which Jacob Blake Sr. had to stand, as so many Black mothers and fathers have had to before him and prayed for their children.

When Jacob Blake Sr. recited the Fatiha for his own son who may never walk again, many were moved by the pain in the recitation of “the cure,” and in it, they heard the cry of generations of Black mothers and fathers.

Seven verses for seven bullets.

May God cure Jacob Blake fully, comfort his family through these difficult days and grant justice to them and the countless other victims of police brutality.

WE HAVE NOTHING TO STOKE BUT FEAR ITSELF

2020 has seen certain uncommon words become common place amongst our everyday vernacular, words such as COVID-19, coronavirus, lockdown, and asymptomatic. Another word that I have heard over and over is apocalypse. In the original Greek, apokalypsis, it means more a revelation or unveiling. Apocalypses are not really the end of the world, even though they can be, so much as they are moments in which a curtain gets drawn back and we see reality more clearly. Many of us have found ourselves thinking about this a lot as March’s lockdown became April’s cabin fever became May’s claustrophobia boiled over into June’s civil unrest, unleashed by people who took to the streets, some seemingly for the first time (welcome white people), to call for justice after a black man was slowly murdered on camera.

Like any apocalypse, this pandemic is indeed pulling back a curtain that was hung to hide many uncomfortable truths about our society. Race is one such uncomfortable truth. Race was a key theme throughout the recent Republican National Convention. The RNC took place a few weeks ago in the States, both virtually and in person on the grounds of the White House (which apparently is illegal but, hey, in the last 4 years the Republicans seem to be making and breaking rules on a daily basis).

For those of us who saw it all or even part of it, the RNC was many things. At times it felt like an other worldly séance marked by an orchestrated festival of lies, distortion, fear mongering and cult-like worship of Trump. This Trump-engineered coronation blasted out pro-Trump propaganda on every broadcast network and news channel, even the ones who claim to dislike him (here’s looking at you CNN).

At other times the convention tried to create a Disneyland administration out of a dystopian nightmare, which made it a perfect epitome of spectacle, a notion devised by the French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord in 1967. Debord said a central theme of spectacle was that it was a “glaring superficial manifestation.” The RNC was nothing but.

The satirist John Oliver commented that, like almost every other week in 2020, the week of the RNC was another week of incredible darkness, and for many reasons, the RNC being the main one. He went on to say that the main theme of the convention seemed to be “telling lies in front of flags” as it was four days of a full-throated denial of objective reality. As Trump and his media ecosystem continued to deliver their blizzard of lies, the gulf between the RNC and objective reality visibly grew right before our very eyes.

The RNC was also Trump’s gift of himself to a grateful party and to the 30% of the electorate who are still with him. The whole thing had the feel of a cable TV ad for an extravagant Las Vegas resort hotel development that one Donald J Trump is bringing to the market. But keep in mind that when you work in casinos, you’re always betting on one thing: that the people lose.

But mostly the RNC was a desperate attempt by mainly white people to reassure the country that America isn’t racist, while simultaneously fear mongering about violent crime threatening law-abiding citizens, and by law-abiding citizens please read white people who live in the suburbs (as opposed to black people in the inner cities).

Oliver ended his analysis of the RNC thusly: “The RNC this week actually ended up being a pretty good reminder that where we still might end up going is genuinely terrifying. Because if it showed us one thing this week, it’s the danger in continuing to be governed by an administration that encourages the ugliest forces in American society, that lionizes threats of violence against peaceful protest, that tells us there is no conflict between supporting law enforcement and “our African-American neighbours,” and that insists that the “best is yet to come,” which, given everything we’ve seen in the last four years, is sounding less like a promise and more like a fucking threat.”

During his speeches Trump once again proved that it’s not just that he’s lying. It’s the fact that he doesn’t care at all for the truth. What he says is only meant to make him look good. That’s the context in which he claims time and time again that he’s passed laws he never passed and built border walls he never built. And that is also why when he speaks, it’s perpetually difficult, nigh on impossible, to say if he’s telling the truth or merely reciting self-serving bullshit.

His closing speech may have been a rambling 70-minute mess, but the optics of it were powerful, but for all the wrong reasons. His posture, his demeanour, the underlying subtext to pretty much everything he said, was Trump trying to play the tough guy, the all-American hero. It was so bad that the journalist Matthew Stevenson wryly remarked that “Trump is a radio shock jock, not an orator, and reading his speech he sounded like a fourth grader trying to recite the Gettysburg Address. He paused for punctuation marks as if they were German umlauts.”

But the problem with such grandiose macho alpha white right-wing posturing is that you can see clearly just how fake it really is. I watched the movie Molly’s Game recently (highly recommended), and there is a line in it that says “Tough guys try to look tougher when they’re insecure.” This describes Trump perfectly. The tougher he tries to look, the more insecure he gets. The more insecure he gets, the more fear mongering he projects. The more fear mongering he generates, the more scared his base become, and thus rely on him even more to save them. And around and around we keep going. Or to put it another way, fear strengthens tribalistic instincts and tribalistic instincts amplify fear.

Not to be outdone Vice President Mike Pence ended his main RNC speech by asking the American people to let him and Trump “Make America great again, again.” In context, it was essentially a request for a mulligan on COVID-19, which is truly absurd. Also, how on earth can any satirist hope to top such lines as that?

I guess history will reveal if 2020 indeed is apocalyptic, but I think we can all agree it hasn’t exactly been the best of times. In an attempt to make sense of it all, and to have a bit of a laugh, please find below a peerless collection of wit and whimsy. It is a taxing job paying the slightest bit of attention to the societal collapse we’re currently living through, which is why I feel it is my solemn duty to share other people’s jokes whenever I can. As you may suspect, there are quite a few quotes about the RNC. As best as one can given, you know, everything, enjoy…


The US election will decide who gets to rule the burning embers of America from a morphine drip in a concrete silo. Finally, America will have a real choice this election, between narcissistic personality disorder and Alzheimer’s…It’s just going to be a campaign about who seems the least senile. I sort of wonder if the most powerful person in the world might be the carer of whoever wins. – Frankie Boyle, Sep 2020

Trump is at the limit of how weird a person can be and not die. – Frankie Boyle, Sep 2020

I was watching the RNC this week. It was a great week if you love reality shows but hate reality. Did you see Trump’s speech last night? By the end of it three fact checkers were taken into the concussion protocol. The people in the crowd were chanting “Four more lies! Four more lies!” It was so bizarre how at the convention they just kept talking about rioting and looting and vandalism that you can expect under a Democratic rule, except that’s happening now under Trump. And yet their theme is that all of the rioting and the violence you’re seeing now wouldn’t be happening if somebody like Trump was in the White House. This guy is some salesman because in 2016 it was like “I will end American carnage.” And in 2020 it’s like “There’s only one person who can stop what’s happening under me. Me!” And that’s why we must re-elect Trump so we can re-gratify America again again. – Bill Maher, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, 21 Aug 2020

During the RNC Trump was doing what he always does, which is to narrow cast to white non-college voters with all the scare tactics that are involved, in that all the crazy antifa anarchist communists are coming to make you get gay sharia married. You know, the whole crazy talk…A lot of those things in the speech were just Trump going through a checklist, what I call the cultural Alamo, where he’s playing to the insecurities of the Trump base and the insecurities that Republicans have built up inside their own political silo. So Fox News is always telling people they’re going to cancel Christmas, they’re going to take away your guns, they’re going to take away your religion, they’re not going to let you do this and this and this. And so he was just going through that checklist. – Rick Wilson, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, 21 Aug 2020

The Trump re-election strategy seems to be to argue that only Donald Trump can save America from Donald Trump’s America. – Dan Rather, 27 Aug 2020

Every RNC speech is like “This dangerous national unrest that is occurring now, three years into the Trump presidency, will NOT happen when Donald Trump is president.” – Zach Schonfeld, 28 Aug 2020

DON’T LET DEMOCRATS KEEP RUINING AMERICA WHICH IS STRONGER THAN IT HAS EVER BEEN BUT ALSO MUST BE SAVED BY DONALD TRUMP WHO IS THE BEST PRESIDENT EVER AND HAS BEEN HINDERED AT EVERY TURN. ANY BAD THING NOW IS FROM THE BIDEN FUTURE AND UNLESS YOU VOTE TRUMP THE CHAOS WILL CONTINUE. – Alexandra Petri, 28 Aug 2020

I must say, did not expect the message “This country is a violent, shit-laden hellscape” from the party that’s been running the show for 3.5 years. – Justin Shanes, 25 Aug 2020

Weird, the closed captioning on Don Junior’s speech is just “Daddy, love me” over and over. – Shauna (@goldengateblond), 25 Aug 2020

I’m trying to watch the RNC Trumpathon but my eyes keep popping out of my head and trying to jump off the balcony. – Dave Foley, 25 Aug 2020

Why have I heard more about cancel culture during this convention than coronavirus? Which is weird because coronavirus has, actually, cancelled our culture. – Amanda Carpenter, 25 Aug 2020

The RNC is a collection of the country’s most culturally and financially powerful people complaining that people they dislike aren’t completely powerless. – Zach Heltzel, 26 Aug 2020

RNC: We have nothing to stoke but fear itself. – A.D. Miles, 26 Aug 2020

I’ve lost the packaging for my anti-stress medicine. I don’t know how much more I can take. – T’Other Simon

Just had a run in with a grammar Nazi. Turned out to be horribly anti semantic 😦 – Vivienne Clore

I am NOT a grammar Nazi! I’m alt-write. – Wilde Thingy

It’s called denial, maybe you’ve heard of it and then pretended you didn’t? – Nate Usher

The most memorable part of this pandemic has been washing 80,000 dishes. – Leah Spigelman, Aug 2020

I’m reading a book called “The History of Guacamole”. It’s not the best I’ve ever read but it’s ideal for dipping into. – Tony Cowards

Urologists are always looking after number one. – Gary Delaney

Trump made it to the White House on his third baby mama. That is impressive, white dudes. You can make it to the White House on your third baby mama. Can you imagine a black dude running for president on his third baby mama? And if you’re Latino then we’re not even going to discuss that. And a third baby mama that barely speaks English. Yeah, I said it, she barely speaks English. I’m not the only one who stares at the TV, squinting every time Melania opens her mouth. We all know good and goddamn well if she was black or Latino there would be subtitles under everything that came out of her goddamn mouth. No way they would let a black or Latino lady on TV talking like that. – Jon Laster, Apr 2020


As a bonus, if you want just a brief introduction to the mentality of the type of people who show up to the RNC, then look no further than the always funny and on-point Jordan Klepper on just how holy is Trump…

IN 2020 THE OUTDOORS IS LAVA

White Suits

Step right up. Welcome one and all to the carnival of horrors that is 2020. Unfortunately, we are all tall enough to enjoy this ride, a ride that takes us hurtling over a global political landscape that is a wasteland of increasing nationalism. Just how much of a wasteland it is was made clear by Captain America himself, the actor Chris Evans, who in a recent interview said “It’s become such a toxic landscape. It breeds this exhaustion. People just can’t be bothered. These are intelligent people that I’m speaking about, people who understand it’s their civic duty but it still feels so daunting. Life as it is is overwhelming enough, so to dive into a pool where everyone is just so horrible to one another, there’s no interest.”

Welcome also to a world where the most powerful man on the planet is literally a white supremacist troll who kow-tows to his old, white tribal base by scaring the bejesus out of them at every possible turn. America’s dump-brained president mispronounced the name of Thailand during a speech a few weeks ago. And yes, he did indeed call it Thighland. And no, I don’t think it’s all that funny because this man’s existence is simply too depressing and infuriating to really find anything in his orbit all that funny.

And so we continue to circle the drain we call politics in the Trump-Boris era. Matters are so infuriating that the previous first lady Michelle Obama recently said all of his shenanigans are causing her to suffer from depression. In a recent podcast she lamented “I know that I am dealing with some form of low-grade depression, not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.”

Her depression is probably going to get worse when she realises that Trump, in a recent interview with Fox News, continued to propagate his long-held belief that the coronavirus pandemic is overhyped. When asked about nearly 1,000 daily deaths in the States, his response was simply to say “It is what it is.” How you feeling now, Michelle?

2020 is also a year that has so far seen, among other terrifying things: the benign impeachment of the president; the mishandling of a public health emergency by many governments; the resultant loss of more than 160,000 Americans and 45,000 Brits due to this global pandemic (which continues to rage virtually unchecked throughout the world due to our own selfishness, stupidity, and incompetence); the worst economic crisis since records began; the gruesome on-camera killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which then sparked the most widespread protest movement for racial justice since the 1960s; followed by the inevitable brutal crackdowns by police on people protesting against police brutality. Role on 2021!

In the controversial 2019 movie Joker, Arthur Fleck (aka the Joker, played superbly by the Academy award winning Joaquin Phoenix), asked the poignant question “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” No Arthur, it ain’t just you, for it is indeed getting crazier out there. And people are coping with this in their own way. For example, in early July Donni Saphire tweeted that he is “watching a movie about nuclear war to relax.” He later tweeted “Just put me under general anaesthesia until 2021.” Whatever works, I guess.

Sure, everything is on fire and the line between parody and reality is so blurred that this somehow is such a dumb time to be alive. But no matter how bad things get, it is never too bad to read funny quotes, such as these hand-picked gemstones. As best as one can given, you know, all that is going on, enjoy…

Moving Targets

“Cancel culture has people afraid to voice their opinion.” Are you kidding!? You people never shut the fuck up. Ever. Not once have you held back on your dumb ass nonsense. – Grimbo, Jul 2020

“Is my cholesterol too high, Doctor?”, he asked with a heavy heart. – Gary Delaney

“Who wants to be a millionaire?” would be a better show if the only contestants were billionaires. – Judah Friedlander

A magician asked me a trick question. I still have no idea how he did it. – Aaron Naylor

A version of you in a parallel universe didn’t make it to today, so make the most of still existing for their memory. – Desus Nice, Jun 2020

Anyone as rich as Jeff Bezos should be legally required to be Batman. – Kate Sidley, Jul 2020

Aside from the fascism, pandemic, and having no sense of when I’ll see my family again, I can’t figure out what’s making me so anxious. – Jesse McLaren, Jul 2020

Billionaire: Anyone can get rich if they work hard. / Me: How did you get rich? / Billionaire: Underpaying people who work hard. – @heybuddy_comic, Jul 2020

Did you know that if you stare at the sun long enough it’ll disappear? – Aaron Naylor

Everyone’s a socialist till I ask if their dad can pay my rent too. – Devon Walker

Heterosexual women say the most common type of role play they get involved in is telling their partner they love him. – Frankie Boyle

I don’t respect myself enough to take a Twitter break. – Sophia Benoit, Jun 2020

I love when FaceTime disconnects & we both decide not to call back. – Keeshia Renee, Jul 2020

I think the only reason jugglers exist is because those were the kids that nobody played catch with. – Aaron Naylor

I transition my summer dresses into winter by simply being depressed in them. – Olga Koch

I was once a gifted child and now I spend 14 hours a day refreshing Twitter in split screen with YouTube videos I’ve already seen. – Dana Schwartz, Jun 2020

I’m 35. I’m at the age where all my friends are getting divorced. – Mark Normand

I’m an introvert. It’s not fun being an introvert. No one gets us. I was in an Uber once and the driver said “So, you’re an introvert. Tell me about that.” And I said “Well, that’s not really how it works.” – Mark Normand

I moved in with a lady recently. I got an Alexa. I love this thing. I just read an article, though. It said Alexa actually listens to everything you say, stores it in a database, and could use it against you later. I was like “Man, just like a real woman.” – Mark Normand

I’ve mixed more metaphors than you’ve had hot cakes. – Olaf Falafel

If I was a millionaire, I’d eat *normal* shortbread from time to time, just to keep me in touch with my roots. – T’Other Simon

If you don’t need masks because you won’t live in fear and God will protect you, then why do you need guns? – Dani Fernandez, Jul 2020

Imagine how peaceful it would be if all the people claiming they were silenced actually had been. – @Okeating, Jul 2020

In 2020 the outdoors is lava…To ensure safety, never go anywhere or do anything. – Donni Saphire, Aug 2020

Instagram, please make a policy where two people in a relationship can’t post the same exact photo. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020

March: I’ll use lockdown to make things and be productive. August: I have made one thing, and it is a fool of myself. – @roobeekeane, Aug 2020

My biggest career goal is to get off Twitter. – @ziwe, Jul 2020

My mother was using vinegar to clean so many surfaces during the coronavirus pandemic that she has, in effect, pickled her house. – Frankie Boyle

Personally, I was all for Margaret Thatcher having a lavish publicly funded cremation. But then she died. – Frankie Boyle

Please don’t make the first ten minutes of me listening to your podcast about how to listen to your podcast. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020

Probably my favourite part of taking a nap is going on my phone for an hour instead of falling asleep. – Kristen Arnett, Jun 2020

So what do we use as a phrase instead of ‘Avoiding it like the plague’ now that we know that a lot of people don’t, in fact, avoid plagues? – Sophie Spengler, Aug 2020

Someone said Willy Wonka is just Saw for children and I’ve never heard something so controversial yet so brave. – Rad Dad, Jun 2020

When I die, I want to die peacefully like my grandpa did, in his sleep, and not screaming and cursing like all the passengers in his car. – Juan, Alacante, Spain

While we can’t go outside or do anything at least we’ve got the internet to fill our days and nights, a completely healthy alternative to taking part in activities with real life friends. – @scharpling, Jul 2020

You’re not a real fan of the news if you haven’t been watching it from the beginning. – Flo & Joan

You’re totally allowed to think something and not tweet it. – Whitney Cummings, Jul 2020


As an added bonus here are two short videos that I still genuinely cannot get my mind around. The first is a very clever piece of editing that shows Trump interviewing himself. This is one of the funniest things I have seen online in many a year. Here are some YouTube comments from this video: “I can’t decide if you’ve made him more or less coherent…Somehow he is still losing the argument with himself…Man, his twin is even more delusional than himself…I don’t know why this feels like it makes more sense than the actual interview…It’s hilarious and terrifying at the same time.” However, the most prescient comment I felt was “He is basically talking to himself all the time anyway, because that’s the only person he listens to.”

The second video shows Jordan Klepper from The Daily Show interviewing Trump supporters at a Trump rally. Prepare to have your gob well and truly smacked, for some of these people are frightening on many levels.

RECTIFY THY NAMES IRREGARDLESS

A MemeWords. Do they mean anything anymore? Does Brexit still mean Brexit? When is racism systemic? Which lives matter more, black or all? Is speech still free? When is a news item genuine, fake news, or even a conspiracy theory? When is it waterboarding as opposed to enhanced interrogation? Is enhanced interrogation like regular interrogation, only better? Is one mans freedom fighter still Margaret Thatcher’s terrorist? Is white privilege a real construct to be dismantled or a false narrative to be ignored? And how do I know if I am talking to a Millennial or Generation X or Y or Z? And don’t even get me started on gender pronouns!

Arguably the best example of a word or phrase that recently meant nothing (and in this case also everything) was when President Trump tweeted the word “covfefe”, an alleged misspelling of the word “coverage” For those of who remember when this actually happened, incredibly this was over 3 entire years ago. How time flies when you are living through a global pandemic, generational changes in society (such as Brexit, #MeToo, and #BLM), and the worst financial crisis the world has known pretty much ever.

To this day, no one knows what covfefe was, or indeed if it still is a thing. In an article entitled Six Hours And Three Minutes Of Internet Chaos, Adrienne LaFrance (writing in the Atlantic in Jan 2019) said the following:

“In the annals of revelatory Trumpian tweets, “covfefe” is the ultimate. Nothing compares to what appeared on his feed at 12:06am on 31st May 2017: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” Seconds passed, then minutes, then an hour, then six hours, with no word from the White House on whether Trump was okay, or even alive. Surely it was a typo, or a tweet published errantly—but what if it was the sign of something more sinister? When the president tweeted again, at 6:09am on the same day, it was to say this: “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!””

LaFrance expertly goes on to explain why this one nonsensical word best explains the hold Trump seems to have on us all, supporters and haters alike:

“There have been more consequential presidential tweets, and someday there may even be a weirder one. But Covfefe remains the tweet that best illustrates Trump’s most preternatural gift: He knows how to captivate people, how to command and divert the attention of the masses. And long after the president’s tweets are stripped of meaning by the passage of time and the rotting of the internet, his severest critics will still have to grapple with the short distance between politics and entertainment in America, and the man who for years toyed so masterfully with a nation’s attention.”

Putting covfefe aside for a moment, it is also easy to be confused by the simplest of words in everyday life. In the office where I currently work, we often get confused over terms such as “next Monday” (the Monday immediately coming or the one after that?), “dinner” and “lunch” (some say these are the same thing, others don’t), and is it “chicken curry” or “curried chicken”? Again, some say they are the same, others passionately tell you otherwise. This means that a statement such as “I’m going to have chicken curry for dinner next Monday” can potentially be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Never a dull moment at work.

Another recent debate I came across was to do with the concept of time and the word “forward”. When a meeting gets moved forward, does that mean it is now sooner or later? Apparently if you think the meeting is now later, then you have an “ego-moving perspective of time,” which means you see yourself moving forward through time. But if you interpret the meeting as being moved earlier, then you have a “time-moving perspective of time,” where you stand still as time moves towards you and then passes over you.

Likewise, according to the comedian Aaron Naylor, the word “new” may not mean what you think it means: “Sometimes when I’m really bored, I like to go to clothing stores that sell fur coats and stand out front and protest. Not because I’m against wearing animals, but because they advertise them as new instead of used.”

To add to the confusion, I came across this cartoon where the word “best” clearly has a double meaning:

Best Me

There are also debates as to whether certain words are actually words. The word “irregardless” is the latest such word to be put under the linguistical microscope. Arguments for and against its inclusion in the dictionary currently rage in nerd-infested corners of the internet, with some saying it basically means the same thing as “regardless”.

Defining words is becoming more and more difficult. We increasingly live in a world of memes, emojis, gifs, abbreviated text messages, soundbites, and YouTube videos, a world where we live in isolated bubbles that act as echo chambers. In such a world words mean less and less collectively and more and more individually. We spend more of our time in this online landscape, yet when we are offline we still think about things from this digital realm. The journalist Ezra Klein made the following remarks in a recent podcast about our digital nature:

“The media technologies we rely on reshape us on a fundamental, cognitive level…A world defined by oral traditions is more social, unstructured, and multisensory; a world defined by the written word is more individualistic, disciplined, and hypervisual. A world defined by texting, scrolling, and social feedback is addicted to stimulus, constantly forming and affirming expressions of identity, accustomed to waves of information…The internet is changing us, just as every medium before it has.”

As such we are surrounded by words and terms that are either meaningless (because they have been so overused they no longer hold any power), or are overflowing with meaning (because they have been weaponised by all shades of the political spectrum). Take the idea of “cancel culture”, a concept that is currently filling the airwaves. The writer John Ganz recently stated in the Guardian:

“What is cancel culture, really? Well, nobody quite knows. Does it even exist? Some would say it’s just a term given to a number of practices that people dislike because they’re personally inconvenient or challenging. Others would argue that only someone acting in bad faith could deny that it exists. As some wag once remarked about Sigmund Freud’s “death drive”, there seem to be as many definitions of cancel culture as there are intellectuals.”

He followed this up with this controversial remark: “One writer caustically remarked something to the effect that cancel culture was a jobs programme for younger media types who wish to displace their elders and take their positions.”

Ganz concluded the article by giving his own very pessimistic definition: “Every opportunity the internet offers for making us bigger, for increasing our power to act, for joining us with others, seems to be a trap that flattens and empties us out, and fills us up with much cruder stuff than was there before. So this is my definition of what’s at stake in cancel culture: it’s not really a political phenomenon at all, but the gradual negation of all human capacity for meaning.”

For a more simplistic view, I’ll let @shaun_vids have the final say on cancel culture: “Free speech is when I’m winning the argument, cancel culture is when I’m losing.”

As you watch the news you can see Orwellian doublespeak happening in real time, right before your very eyes. You end up questioning the fundamental nature of truth and of reality itself. Is the fight for truth in our information environment over? I take it that truth lost? How long before I search for “truth” on the internet and Google tells me it was all a conspiracy theory, just like the moon landings or the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School? And what about reality, is it a construct of the mind? If so does that mean, in a philosophical context, that all of us live in our own subjective reality, where words can mean whatsoever we choose?

Further light was recently shed on these topics by Darren McGarvey, a Scottish rapper, hip hop recording artist, and social commentator who goes by the stage name Loki. He was an activist during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. In a recent BBC TV show (Frankie Boyle’s Tour Of Scotland), he came up with the following analysis:

“When it comes to social problems and politics, if we’re all using different terminology to describe the reality around us, then we lose the ability through language to start to conceptualise what a solution to a problem might look like, or what even the problem is in the first place. The good thing about language is that everyone has access to it, or most people have access to it. It’s just that when you start making pronouncements about what is the right language and what is the wrong language, that is when it becomes exclusionary. From the classroom to the court room, lower class people are conditioned that there is a voice of reason and there is a voice of authority, and that voice, whether it is Jeremy Kyle or whether it is a news reader, it is always middle class. And it’s very hard to shake that.”

When we fail to agree on basic things such as what do those words mean that we currently disagree on, then, from a political perspective, according to Jonathon Cole “the only viable alternative” is “political oblivion: permanent escape into the non-political pseudo-reality of video games, reality television and Hollywood gossip — gorging the mind with enough trivia to maintain the pretence that there is nothing confronting happening in the world.” Sounds rather familiar, especially during these times of lockdown. Just in case the point was missed, he immediately follows this with “The unpalatable truth is that we inhabit a political reality that transcends our comprehension.”

Cole expands on this point by asking if the BLM protests are a “righteous reckoning for a racist country that warrants the enormous personal and communal sacrifices that innocent bystanders are involuntarily made to offer”, or are they instead the “lamentable manipulation and exploitation of well-intentioned citizens by a cynical cultural Marxist conspiracy with designs to overthrow the Republic”?

Why all these questions and rethinks? I read an article recently by Fintan O’Toole that got the old brain gears churning. In the article O’Toole writes about how the term “war on terror” has been redefined over the years. The term was originally designed by the Bush government to essentially create a permanent state of psychic emergency so as to justify military action anywhere on the planet. However, it has recently been redefined in such a dastardly way by the Orange Wrecking Ball, also known as President Trump.

The article also reminded me of a short excerpt from the brilliant book Unspeak by Steven Poole. Poole touches on the point that, if we all agree that society is best served by rational debate conducted in honest language, then it becomes vital that we all originate from a common understanding. Otherwise we could end up divided by rhetoric, and God only knows what that would look like. Both the book excerpt and an excerpt from the article are presented below. As always, both are well worth reading in full. As best as one can in these sorts of situations, enjoy…


The Unpresident And The Unredeemed Promise

Fintan O’Toole, 23 Jul 2020, nybooks.com

Trump was right in one sense: the war on terror has always been a war of definition, and for every US administration since September 11, that power of definition is arbitrary. You can call “whatever you want” terrorism—or not. The semantics are the keys that unlock a vast array of state capacities, up to and including the right to kidnap and imprison people indefinitely without trial, to conduct summary executions, and to invade foreign countries and overthrow their governments. Authoritarian regimes abroad grasped this quickly—once you define your critics as “terrorists,” there is no need for even the pretense of due process. Conversely, if you refrain from using the word, those you approve of—for example, armed white men invading the Michigan state capitol—enjoy complete impunity.

The Republicans wasted no time in exploiting that power of definition: they deliberately subverted the distinction between peaceful protesters and looters, and labeled them all terrorists. This was not merely an example of Trumpian hyperbole—the term was used by many senior Republicans including, most ominously, in a written statement of May 31, by Attorney General William Barr announcing that “to identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners, federal law enforcement is using our existing network of 56 regional FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.”

Trump, however, extended the “terrorist” label, not just to “criminal organizers” of violence but also explicitly to the peaceful protesters who were assaulted with chemical sprays, rubber bullets, and flash bombs on Lafayette Square, to clear the way for his Bible-waving stunt at St. John’s Church. On June 4 he tweeted a copy of a letter “from respected retired Marine and Super Star lawyer, John Dowd” with the instruction: “Read it!” Dowd, in this open letter of rebuke to the former defense secretary James Mattis for his criticism of Trump, claimed that “the phony protesters near Lafayette were not peaceful and are not real. They are terrorists using idle hate filled students to burn and destroy.” The logic is clear: the FBI’s terrorism task forces can and should use their sweeping powers and immense resources to investigate the protesters.

And those protesters can also be assaulted on the streets by the police and by uniformed men who are not identified (either collectively or individually) and are therefore impossible to hold to account. In response to images showing police in Buffalo push over and seriously injure a seventy-five-year-old man, Martin Gugino, Trump tweeted that “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur…Could be a set up?” Trump had already declared his intention to designate “ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organization.” But since Antifa does not actually exist as an organization, anyone engaged in protest “could be” a terrorist. This possibility is enough to make every public opponent of Trump’s regime a legitimate target for state violence. If and when that assault happens, moreover, it is not real. The victim staged it.

This is the final overflow from unfinished war. The word that once described Osama bin Laden and the killers of innocent Americans now extends to citizens protesting the killing of innocent fellow Americans. The concept that is not defined—terrorism—is not bounded. In particular it is not bounded by constitutional or democratic values. Trump, Barr, and the Republicans have cleared the way for a great homecoming: the war on terror, with all of its weapons for the mass destruction of legality, is being fully repatriated.

All of these historical surpluses—the afterlives of slavery, of the deranged presidency, and of the threat of terrorism as permission to set aside legal and democratic rights—have raised the stakes in the present struggle. This mass of unresolved stuff is being forced toward some kind of resolution. That resolution can come in only one of two ways. What has come to the surface can be repressed again—but that repression will have to be enforced by methods that will also dismantle democracy. Trump’s boast that he can do whatever he wants will have to be institutionalized, made fully operational, and imposed by state violence. Or there will be a transformative wave of change. All of this unfinished business has made the United States semidemocratic, a half-and-half world in which ideals of equality, political accountability, and the rule of law exist alongside practices that make a daily mockery of those ideals. This half-life is ending—either the outward show of democracy is finished and authoritarianism triumphs, or the long-denied substance becomes real. The unconsumed past will either be faced and dealt with, or it will consume the American republic.


Unspeak Cover

A long time ago in China, a philosopher was asked the first thing he would do if he became ruler. The philosopher thought for a while, and then said: “Well, if something had to be put first, I would rectify the names for things.” His companion was baffled: what did this have to do with good government? The philosopher lamented his companion’s foolishness, and explained. “When the names for things are incorrect, speech does not sound reasonable; when speech does not sound reasonable, things are not done properly; when things are not done properly, the structure of society is harmed; when the structure of society is harmed, punishments do not fit the crimes; and when punishments do not fit the crimes, the people don’t know what to do.” “The thing about the gentleman,” he warned, “is that he is anything but casual where speech is concerned.” The philosopher’s name was Confucius, and he was referring to a phenomenon that is all around us today. He was talking about what I call unspeak. – Steven Poole, from his book Unspeak: Words Are Weapons

I CANNOT BE SUPERIOR IF YOU ARE NOT INFERIOR

Black-Deaths-Matter

In 1956 the celebrated author Robert Penn Warren wrote about racism in America. He described how there is a “national rhythm” related to race matters that sways gratuitously between “complacency and panic.” We certainly know which way the pendulum is swinging at the moment. If Warren is right in his analysis, then the question arises as to how do you find your way out of this rhythm? Warren himself spoke of needing leadership grounded in “moral identity” in order to “break out”, and God only knows what “moral identity” means in this post-Trump universe we all seem to be imprisoned in.

Another way to “break out” is to inject your intellect with new ideas and new perspectives, told by voices old or new. The most obvious voices belong to the serious people, be they historians, academics, and such like. Joseph Harker is one such example. Harker is the Guardian newspaper’s deputy opinion editor as well as the former editor and publisher of the weekly newspaper Black Briton. He recently made the following observation:

If I hear one more white person say “Black Lives Matter” I think my head will explode. The slogan, powerful when first popularised by black people after the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 in the US, has now become so ubiquitous as to have lost almost all meaning. A way for people to endlessly repeat “I hate racism” while doing nothing to actually stop it…You can say “Black Lives Matter” a million times but it will change nothing…To make lasting change, we ultimately have to get off the streets and into the rooms where these decision-makers operate…Black Lives Matter is a catchy slogan. But right now, action is what really matters. – Joseph Harker, 11 Jun 2020, theguardian.com

As well as Trayvon Martin, Harker was also referring to the murder of George Floyd, the aftermath of which has unleashed an international conversation on questions of race and racism. And it seems everybody has an opinion, a voice they wish to share. Here we have the American-Korean designer Courtney Ahn with her simple but honest take on ‘white privilege’:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced prejudice, hardship, or earned your successes, but it does mean that your life hasn’t been harder because of your skin tone. – Courtney Ahn

But there are other voices that I think should be heard too. These voices belong to comedians and satirists who, believe it or not, have also expressed deep and thoughtful pronouncements regarding the murder of George Floyd. But why listen to the non-serious people? Well, during a crisis comedians do the impossible task of finding what’s funny about a dire scenario, thus giving us permission to laugh. They also keep us informed about important issues in an entertaining and digestible way.

For example, the Marx Brothers released classic movies like Duck Soup during the Great Depression, providing a cheap laugh (in a good way) amid grave economic uncertainty. The black American stand-up Dick Gregory satirized the inequality and discrimination faced by black Americans during the height of the civil rights struggle (he also managed to back up his words with sustained activism). And in the sombre days after 9/11, the return of comedy institutions like Saturday Night Live signalled that irony was far from dead. And today we need humour more than usual, a fact that is not lost on the black actress Taylor Garron:

Even as a satirist, it’s admittedly not the easiest (or the most helpful) thing for me to find humour in police brutality, white supremacy, and the seemingly endless fight for Black people’s rights. It can feel hopeless, inappropriate, and sometimes even damaging to use comedy to bring attention to something so serious and so urgent. But at the same time, I think that using humour is an effective way to highlight the hypocrisy and cast light onto blind spots that even the best-intentioned allies can perpetuate. – Taylor Garron

With that in mind, here are a few quotes from comedians related to current events. We begin with the late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel who recently said something similar to Courtney Ahn:

White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard, it just means the colour of your skin isn’t one of the things that makes it harder. – Jimmy Kimmel

And then you have comments such as these:

The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation…The root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police…We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them. – Jon Stewart, 15 Jun 2020, nytimes.com

It actually makes me feel good that white people are showing the level of passion for black people that they normally reserve for animals. – Larry Wilmore, 12 Jun 2020, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, referring to white people joining Black Lives Matter protests

I’m mixed race. If there are reparations for slavery, I’ll owe myself a fortune. – Andy J White, 19 Jun 2020

And then you have the following videos, all featuring well known comedians, that have really helped me to understand these complex issues in a new way. I hope they help you too. As best as one can in these turbulent times, enjoy…


Dave Chappelle

Arguably the greatest living stand-up on the planet, Chappelle delivers a blistering 27-minute set that cuts straight to the brutality of the murder of an innocent African-American. At one point he muses “Why would anyone care what their favourite comedian thinks after they saw a police officer kneel on a man’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds?” After listening to his passionate and urgent lament, it is clear that we should all care.


Trevor Noah

Noah, a bi-racial South African who has made it big in the States, spends 18 reflective minutes telling us about the domino effect, or how some things are more connected than you may realise. He also discusses the “unspoken contract” that exists between us all, and how this contract seems to be broken for black people in America.


Hasan Minhaj

Minhaj, a Muslim like his fellow comedian Dave Chappelle, offers many home truths in just 12 minutes about how we all perhaps need to reflect more, including Muslims as well as angsty white teenagers.


Bill Maher

You have polytheism (belief in more than one God), monotheism (belief in only one God), agnosticism (belief in sitting on some imaginary theological fence), and atheism (belief in no God). And then you have your anti-theists, a militant form of atheism where people believe that believing in God in any way is completely stupid, and they’re not afraid to speak their mind about it. Maher is just such a guy, so perhaps I, a practising Muslim, should steer clear of anything he has to say. Trouble is he often says things I happen to agree with, and this 5-minute rant about how easy it is for white people to be “helping wrong” because of the “guardians of ‘gotcha’” is a perfect example.


Honorary mentions go out to an 8-minute video of Keegan-Michael Key, one half of comedy duo Key and Peele, who, in an interview with Stephen Colbert, gives his thoughts on racism, with reference to Trevor Noah and the aforementioned “unspoken contract.”

Likewise, author Kimberly Jones very passionately explains the difference between protesting, rioting, and looting, all in under 7 minutes. She too refers to Trevor Noah and some of his earlier comments.

And finally, Dr Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism, shares many of her thoughts and experiences in an interview on CNN. The 17-minute interview took place in September of 2018, but CNN consider it so relevant they recently released an extended version of it. A few selected quotes are also presented.

It takes very little to set white people off, to set us off into defensiveness. So, for many white people, the mere suggestion that white has meaning will cause us to erupt in defensiveness. For many of your listeners, the fact that I’m generalizing right now about white people, will set off the defensiveness. Individualism is a really precious ideology for white people, and we do not like to be generalized about.

It’s a kind of delusion. I think that some people have said when you’re used to 100 percent, 98 feels oppressive. As a white person I was just raised to expect the world to be mine, in absolutely any field. I see myself represented. I see myself represented in all my teachers and my curriculum and my heroes and heroines. And so, just even a suggestion that we need to make sure we’re being fair and including other people, seems to set the white collective off.

Toni Morrison beautifully argues that white people need black people. There is no white without black. I cannot be superior if you are not inferior. And so, there’s a kind of investment in those positions. And it’s the bedrock of this country. It’s maybe buried in a way that it wasn’t in the past, but it sure looks like it’s coming back up.