2016 – The Year Materialism Failed The Many

The year 2016 has been one of the most tumultuous of our generation. We have had unpredictable and shocking events such as Britain Brexiting (and Brexiting hard), Trump becoming President, and Leicester City winning the English Premiere League. We have suffered a multitude of celebrity deaths, Muhammad Ali being the most prominent one for myself. We have ongoing chaos in the Middle East, especially in Syria.  We have the rise and rise of far right nationalism all across the globe. We have reached an environmental tipping point when it comes to CO2 emissions. And we are now all living post-truth.

So bad was 2016 that actress Helen Mirren said “I think we can all agree that 2016 has been a big pile of shit.” Andy Zaltzman said 2016 “will be splatted into the history books in luminous, angry, confusing paint.” A more poignant assessment of 2016 came from Brendan Cox, husband of murdered politician Jo Cox, who said in Channel 4’s Alternative Christmas message that 2016 is “A year in which fascism, xenophobia, extremism and terrorism made us divided and felt threatened, from America, to Europe, to the Middle East and beyond.”

With all this going on I therefore found it interesting that in such a chaotic 12 months both Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, in their Christmas messages referred to how materialism is making the world more unbalanced. Yes they did mention the usual topics of suffering, war, conflict, community, and so forth, but they did strongly imply that our consumerist nature is causing untold happiness.

Even the Queen in her Christmas message alluded to helping others more than yourself. She said that, through the example of Christ, she can “see the value of doing small things with great love.”

There are two reasons why I am focusing on materialism (aka capitalism, aka consumerism). Firstly, I recently finished reading the book Revolution by Russell Brand. The book is an interesting read, especially the views on consumerism. I also watch many of Russell’s videos on his YouTube channel The Trews, from which many of his quotes below are from. Brand is one of those love-him-or-hate-him figures, and whilst I may not entirely love him, I certainly do have a lot of time and respect for him and many of his ideas.

Secondly, mankind has now officially entered the Trumpocene era, an era of climate change denial, enhanced division, conspiracy based governmental policies, and most alarmingly of all, pure unadulterated greed.

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So what follows is the usual smorgasbord of quotes, clips, and pics related to the topic currently buzzing around in my head, materialism. Enjoy!


Let’s start with a classic quote on the mediocrity of our existence from the classic book Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh (ignore the last bit please)…

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats that you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life…But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin? – Irvine Welsh, from his book Trainspotting


A quote from Russell Brand that echoes Irvine Welsh…

You may be suffering from anxiety because you recognize that the outside world doesn’t seem to bear a relationship to your own personal value systems, and the things that you’ve been told that will work for you, the things that you were told to do to make life work for you, are proving fruitless: go to university, do this, do that, get a good job, get a bank account, get a car, it’s all going to work well. Well, no it’s not, is it? It hasn’t worked. And guess what? The people that told you that it would knew that it wouldn’t. They were doing it for their own values, not in a conspiratorial way, just simply that there’s an economic system that some people benefit from and they have a vested interest in keeping it running and you my friend are the fodder. – Russell Brand


Archbishop Justin Welby on the failure of progress…

The end of 2016 finds us all in a different kind of world, one less predictable and certain, which feels more awash with fear and division. Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said three weeks ago, “Despite immense progress many citizens in advanced economies are facing heightened uncertainty…rather than a new golden era, globalisation is associated with low wages, insecure employment, stateless corporation and striking inequalities.” That uncertainty of our world, our feelings tells us that our values are in the wrong place. I learned last week of a family in one of our cities who lowered their child in a supermarket dustbin to scavenge for food before fishing him out. What will that family eat today? Economic progress, technological progress, communication progress hasn’t resulted in economic justice. It hasn’t delivered glory for us. – Archbishop Justin Welby, Dec 2016, from his Christmas sermon


Russell Brand on the modern places of worship…

Joseph Campbell, the cultural anthropologist…said, “If you want to understand what’s most important to a society, don’t examine its art or literature, simply look at its biggest buildings.” In medieval societies, the biggest buildings were its churches and palaces; using Campbell’s method, we can assume these were feudal cultures that revered their leaders and worshipped God. In modern Western cities, the biggest buildings are the banks—bloody great towers that dominate the docklands—and the shopping centers, which architecturally ape the cathedrals they’ve replaced: domes, spires, eerie celestial calm, fountains for fonts, food courts for pews. – Russell Brand, from his book Revolution


Pope Francis on Christmas being taken hostage…

Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. Today also the same indifference can exist, when Christmas becomes a feast where the protagonists are ourselves, rather than Jesus; when the lights of commerce cast the light of God into the shadows; when we are concerned for gifts, but cold toward those who are marginalised. This worldliness has taken Christmas hostage. It needs to be freed. – Pope Francis, Dec 2016, in his Christmas Eve homily


Russell Brand on not being you…

When in 2011 young people all over Britain seemingly spontaneously decided to break the glass and snatch the idols from the altar, it was condemned as nihilistic and antisocial. That may be the case, what is more antisocial and nihilistic is the imposition of such dubious idolatry. The unrelenting bombardment of consumer imagery, the intoxicating message that you are not good enough. You are too fat, spotty, and wan. You are not as fit as David Beckham or Beyonce, escape your life into this PlayStation, mask the stench of your failure with this fragrance, run from your debts in these gleaming new shoes. Don’t be you. Don’t be you. – Russell Brand, from his book Revolution


Russell Brand on the crazy shopping event known as Black Friday…

A religious holiday is being measured in terms of consumer success. I don’t want to sound like a seventeen-year-old but obviously that shows that our state religion, of the states of the United Kingdom, in the United States and the sort of secular Western democracies, is consumerism, which never presents itself explicitly as ‘this is our religion’ but it evidently is: this is how we see ourselves, this is how we talk to ourselves, this is how we express ourselves. Even formally religious impulses, like let’s come together, are expressed now by going out and buying a bloody great big television…Can’t you already feel the shadows of future evolved beings watching this and going “And this is why their society fell apart.” – Russell Brand, Nov 2016


Whether you like it or not, we are all complicit, especially those not interested in politics…

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Russell Brand on materialism versus spiritualism…

I myself felt that when you live in a world that is predicated on materialistic values and individualism, something deep within you knows that this is an erroneous ecological system and rejects it. So you feel like you’re not in harmony with the external world. The values of a materialistic society somehow don’t chime or resonate with your inner self…You get these objects, whether it’s trainers, a fast car, or a fancy famous lifestyle, it doesn’t nourish you spiritually, it never can do. – Russell Brand


Russell Brand on why materialism is causing some people to turn to drugs…

We live in a society that tells you that you have to be successful as an individual, that your feelings are secondary, that the way to solve all of your problems is by acquiring things. If you look at how often you receive that message over the course of a day it is bamboozling and baffling even to contemplate. Even if you stay in your house all day the message will hit you: you should have these trainers, this is what you should do, this is you should be drinking, this is what you should look like. It’s so perpetual that it exists as a rhythm in your head. We live in a culture that has closed the door on the mystery, that has closed the door on the metaphysical, that has closed the door on the spiritual, so all that is left is a kind of bleak mechanical nothingness that’s trundling towards the grave. And if that’s reality then I will bloody take drugs. – Russell Brand


I will leave you with Russell’s views on that Amazon advert that I thought was brilliant, but I am not so sure now…

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AN OPEN LETTER FROM A MUSLIM TO TRUMP

Dear President Elect Trump,

I hope you and your family are well.

Congratulations on a stunning win in the recent American presidential elections. This entire election campaign, the election itself, and the living-breathing-on-going-aftermath, have all left me gripped and horrified, and I am certain I am not the only one. Having said that, I really do hope you know what you are doing, especially when it comes to us Muslims. The reason for my concern is best highlighted in the following quote:

A clash of civilizations is truly brewing. But it’s not Islam versus the West, as right-wing pundits want you to believe. Rather it’s the Trump administration versus Islam. And no one is happier about this than ISIS and Al Qaeda. – Dean Obeidallah, from an article entitled We Must Fight The Most Anti-Muslim Administration Ever

Whilst your acts of anti-Muslim vitriol are too numerous to mention, a few highlights to bring to your attention are: wanting to ban all Muslims from entering the USA, saying “Islam hates us” openly and repeatedly, falsely claiming thousands of Muslims cheered in New Jersey when the Twin Towers fell on 9-11, choosing blatantly anti-Muslim choices for your government, wanting to profile Muslims and the surveillance of mosques, and we’ll end on your desire to have a national Muslim registry so you know at all times where we pesky Muslims are and what we’re up to.

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Despite this fear mongering, may I politely inform you that you will lose this clash. You will lose because you fail to realise that we Muslims are a hardy bunch. If you know anything about Islamic history then you will know we Muslims, like many other groups of people, like many other religions, we are survivors, resiliently so. We have been, we are now, and we will continue to be till God decides to pull down the eternal shutters on humanity.

Over the centuries we have endured many great hardships and heart-breaking insults, some of our own doing, some unjustly brought upon us. Know Mr President that over the centuries Islam has faced foes much tougher, meaner, scarier, and intelligent than your good self, enemies worthy of much more respect. Trust me, as sure as Brexit is Brexit, we will survive your Trumpocalypse. So let this blog post hopefully enlighten you a little of Islamic history, of the many things we Muslims have resiliently endured, as well as making it clear that we will survive…


HISTORICALLY…

We have survived the death of our beloved Prophet Muhammad in the year 632AD, which resulted in the schism between Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims that still rages today.

We have survived some 9 crusades spanning 5 centuries, with the First Crusade arising after a call to arms by Pope Urban II in a sermon in 1095. It was in 1187 that the great Muslim warrior Saladin took back control of Jerusalem from 88 years of Crusader rule. I would urge you to compare how the Muslims behaved when they took over Jerusalem compared to when the Christians took control some 88 years earlier, and then tell me who the barbarians are.

We have survived the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and his early 14th century work Divine Comedy, considered by many to be the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature. In this ‘masterpiece’ Dante insultingly places the Prophet Muhammad into the 8th circle of hell.

We have survived multiple invasions of Mongol hordes, most prominently the siege of Baghdad in 1258 led by the grandson of Genghis Khan. The siege saw the death of over 90,000 inhabitants and the destruction of the grand library of Baghdad, an event said to mark the end of the Islamic golden age.

We have survived the fall of Islamic empires such as the Rashidun and the Umayyad and the Abbasid and the Fatimid and the Ayyubid and the Mamluk and finally the Ottoman Caliphate, which was abolished in 1924. The political reverberations of this abolishment still ring through to the present.


MORE RECENTLY…

We Muslims have more recently survived the publication of deliberately inflammatory cartoons insulting our beloved and respected Prophet, published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

We have survived the massacres at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, where in 1982 some 3,500 civilians, mainly Lebanese Shia Muslims, were murdered by Christian extremists.

We have also survived the Srebrenica massacre, where in 1995 more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by Christians from the Serb army in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica. Kofi Annan, then Secretary-General of the United Nations, described this mass murder as the worst crime on European soil since the Second World War.

We have survived the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians killed from bombs dropped from 10,000 feet in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

We have survived Salman Rushdie and his 1988 book The Satanic Verses, in which Rushdie deliberately insulted our Prophet, knowing full well what the reactions would be.

We have survived all the after effects that followed the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011.

We have endured the collective punishment of Palestinian families for several decades, a concept you have taken further by threatening to kill the families of terrorists (or people you think are terrorists).

We have survived Bush and Blair and Bolton and Cheney and Wolfowitz and all those other dove destroying hawks (having said that, at least Bush did go to a mosque a few days after 9-11, where he called Islam “good and peaceful”).

We have survived the death in 2016 of the Greatest, Muhammad Ali, arguably the greatest sporting icon ever, and the ultimate response to anyone who (like yourself) questions whether Islam and western ideals are compatible or not.

We have survived the increased Islamophobia in the wake of 9-11 and 7-7 and every ISIS inspired terror attacks (which indiscriminately kill Muslims as well as non-Muslims).


WE WILL SURVIVE…

We Muslims will survive your hand-picked team of Muslim haters, people such as…

General Michael Flynn, your National Security Adviser, who has said “Islam is a political ideology…it definitely hides behind this notion of it being a religion…It’s like cancer…a malignant cancer in this case…We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”

David Friedman, your ambassador to Israel, who wants to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. You do know this will be a slap in the face to all Palestinians and that it will kill the two state solution, thereby derailing the already flimsy peace process and causing further middle east turmoil?

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Newt Gingrich, a key part of your transition team, who has said “Let me be as blunt and direct as I can be. Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported.”

Dr Ben Carson, your Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, who has said that a Muslim American should not be president unless that person agrees to “reject the tenets of Islam.”

Steve Bannon, your chief strategist, who let anti-Muslim rhetoric flourish during his time in charge at breitbart.com and whilst hosting a show on SiriusXM radio. Bannon also recently said “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they (liberals and the media) get it wrong, when they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.” Seriously Mr Trump? Darkness is good? Is it?

Peter King, New York’s Seaford Representative and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, who recently in a meeting with yourself encouraged you to launch a large-scale surveillance program of Muslims similar to those in New York after the 9-11 attacks (these were eventually scrapped by the NYPD after they were found to be likely illegal).

Allen West, an avid supporter of yours, who has said “We already have a Fifth Column that is already infiltrating into our colleges, into our universities, into our high schools, into our religious aspect, our cultural aspect, our financial, our political systems in this country. And that enemy represents something called Islam. And Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 A.D., and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.” West also put up a Facebook post suggesting that you have hired James ‘Mad dog’ Mattis as your Defence Secretary in order to “exterminate” Muslims.


We Muslims will survive the hypocrisy of watching Muslims being called ‘terrorists’ and non-Muslims being called ‘lone wolves’ whenever there is a mass shooting.

We will survive groups like ISIS, Al-Shabab, and Boko Haram, groups who tarnish Islam and what it means to be a Muslim. Just because they call themselves Islamic does not make it so.

We will survive the ongoing massacre of thousands of civilians in Syria, where Bashar Al-Assad feels emboldened in his endeavours thanks to the support he gets from Russia, who themselves are emboldened due to your election to the highest office in the land.

We will survive the legal turmoil that surrounds hijabs and niqabs, and whether a woman can or cannot wear such things. Whenever the talk of hijab arises I am reminded on the following quote from Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle who, when talking about France wanting to ban the hijab, said “France be like ‘I support free speech, free expression. Unless you wear a veil. I CAN’T SEE HER NOSE!! ARREST HER! I CAN’T SEE HER NOSE!!’”

We will survive the continued support America has for various despots and tyrants around the world, despite the recent comment from Obama that America should no longer interfere in foreign elections (presumably now because you guys know how it feels).

We will survive your proposed Muslim registry and all that entails, including having to walk down the street wearing a visible symbol to let others know we are Muslims.

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We will survive all of this and more in the best way possible, and that is by following the advice of the Qur’an which tells us to bear our hardships with patience and prayer (Qur’an 2:153).


WE HOPE…

So where does all this leave us? It leaves us with nothing but hope.

We Muslims hope you read the various letters people have written to you, such as the letter signed by over 450 American Muslims who want you to know that “Muslims have been an integral part of the United States since its founding when the first slave ships arrived on its shores” and that “Americans who are Muslim contribute positively to every aspect of our society”.

We hope you also read the letter written by American Muslim Marwa Balkar, and the letter Michael Moore wrote to you where he declared “We are all Muslim.”

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We hope there are more people like Trevor Noah who said, in a recent episode of The Daily Show, that if there is a Muslim registry then all Americans should register as Muslim.

We hope that the brilliant American Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is right when he says “Many Trump supporters are decent, hard-working people.”

We hope the citizens of Silicon Valley follow through with their promise to not build your Muslim registry database.

We hope you realize that Muslims in America and all over the world are just as fearful of terrorists as you and other non-Muslims are.

We hope your exponentially increasing ignorance of Islam and all things Muslim is not the cause of your inevitable ruin.

We hope you heed the words of former Japanese American internment camp prisoner and Star Trek actor George Takei who, in an emotional essay for the Washington Post, said:

The Constitution and the government exist in large measure to protect against the excesses of democracies. This is particularly salient when, in an atmosphere of fear or mistrust, one group is singled out and vilified, as Japanese Americans were during World War II and as Muslim Americans are today. How terrible it is to contemplate, once again, that the government itself might once more be the very instrument of terror and division. That cannot happen again. We cannot allow it. – George Takei

We Muslims hope Russell Brand is right about people in service perhaps standing up to people in power like yourself:

As the degeneration of our governing institutions becomes more blatant, more and more of the brave men and women that have sworn to protect and serve the people are going to see that oath runs directly adverse to what they’re being paid to do. – Russell Brand, from his book Revolution


Despite the many on-going hardships, with boundless optimism we Muslims will continue to be unwavering in our commitment to our Prophet, to our holy book, to our own kind, and to those strangers who help us with their kindness. I personally will continue with my faith because, as Haroon Moghul said on Twitter “I am in love with a God I cannot see, a Prophet who has passed, a paradise I may never enter, and a faith I cannot deny.”

As you can now perhaps appreciate, Islam and Muslims is a complex and multi-layered ‘thing’. It is not quite as black and white as you have made it out to be. Therefore perhaps you will give more thought to your motives and actions. Here’s hoping.

God willing Mr President, we Muslims will win you over not with bullets as you so fearfully suspect, but instead with kindness. I leave you with the words of academic Karen Armstrong (whose books you should really read):

If we are to do better in the twenty-first Christian century, Western people must learn to understand the Muslims with whom they share the planet. They must learn to respect and appreciate their faith, their needs, their anger, and their aspirations. – Karen Armstrong, from her book Muhammad: A Biography Of The Prophet

Your brother in Islam

The Bearded One

PAKISTAN LOVES CONAN O’BRIEN!

Just a quick blog post of funny videos that I hope you will enjoy, responsibly of course. Below are videos from Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Aziz Ansari, Donald Trump, David Cross, and others. Enjoy!


Pakistan Loves Conan O’Brien…


Kumail Nanjiani: The Muslim Cleric Who Married Me Was Into Beyoncé…


Aziz Ansari’s Pork-Fuelled Feud With His Parents…


Donald Trump’s First TV Ad…


Donald Trump’s New Anti-Muslim Ad…


A funny short 4-part web series called Guess Who’s Muslim…


Guess Who’s Muslim reminded me a wee bit of another 4-part web series, this time from the BBC called My Jihad, well worth a look on BBC iPlayer

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Finally, 2 clips from the brilliant David Cross, first clip talking about Republicans and Trump, and the second clip is a rather brutal joke (you have been warned)…

20 THOUGHT PROVOKING QUOTES

I thought I would take a break from the doom and gloom of all things recent, and instead just do a quick blog post of 20 thought provoking quotes. Enjoy!


A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. – Winston Churchill

A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one. – from the movie Cool Runnings (1993)

A man does not have to be an angel in order to be a saint. – Albert Schweitzer

A problem is something to solve. If there’s no solution, it’s not a problem, so stop treating it like one. – Jonathan Tropper, from his book This is Where I Leave You

A rooster crows only when it sees the light. Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I have seen the light and I’m crowing. – Muhammad Ali

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A tree falls in the forest and no one puts it on YouTube. Did it really ever happen? – from the movie Point Break (2015)

As long as you’re talking, you’re not listening. – from the movie Creed (2015)

Asking Allah may not make the mountain smaller, but it can make the climbing easier. – Anon

Be proud of who you are, and not ashamed of how someone else sees you. – Anon

Be sure it’s your real self you’re showing. Because it is your real self that needs to be loved. – Daphne Rose Kingma

Beautiful people are not always good, but good people are always beautiful. – Anon

Careful the spell you cast…Sometimes the spell may last. – from the movie Into The Woods (2014)

Clothing yourself with the best character is more appealing than clothing yourself with expensive labels. – Mufti Ismail Menk

Do not depend too much on anyone in this world because even your own shadow leaves you when you are in the darkness. – Ibn Taymiyyah

Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. – Eleanor Roosevelt

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg. – Abraham Lincoln

How much is it worth to have a clear conscience? – from the movie Pale Rider (1985)

I am not a puppet, I will work against your strings. – lyrics from the song Money On My Mind by Sam Smith

I don’t normally talk about my religion publicly because I don’t want people to associate me and my flaws with this beautiful thing…And I believe it is a beautiful religion if you learn it the right way. – Dave Chappelle, a Muslim

If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. – J K Rowling, from her book Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire