Sending Saudi A Very Sternly Worded Arms Invoice

2018 Fear

So, goodbye 2018, we hardly knew ye. 2018 first came to us so long ago, stayed for what felt like an age, and now it so quickly whizzes past. The madness and chaos and confusion that existed at the start of the year looks set to walk with us arm-in-arm triumphantly into 2019. Brexit is still with us, and it gets more and more confusing each day. And, surprisingly to some, Trump is still with us, having now completed 2 full years of his first (and only?) term.

But this year had so much more to it than just Brexit and Trump. It was crammed so full of news that Trevor Noah, whilst hosting the last episode of The Daily Show for the year, said that “2018 was so insane, every day felt ten years long.”

But for a lot of people, the major news stories in 2018 — climate change, the midterm elections, Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation battle, the rescue of school boys from underground caves — just went by in an endless scroll of push notifications. It was so easy to get lost in that electronic sea, to see these stories as a series of discrete events without a broader throughline or impact. Only time and historical analysis will reveal if that was indeed the case.

Yet through it all we never lost our sense of humour. For example, the prize-winning clown David Konyot took umbrage at the Guardian using the word ‘clown’ in one of it’s Brexit-related headlines. Konyot ended up writing the following letter to the newspaper, saying how it was wrong to use the word in connection with current political behaviour:

With regard to your recent article and headline (Our Elders Are Supposed To Be Older And Wiser. But Not These Brexit Clowns, theguardian.com, 21 December), I am a prize-winning international musical clown, part of an honourable profession, and am deeply offended by the misuse and misrepresentation of “clown” in connection with parliamentary or other forms of chaotic behaviour. The constant use of the word “circus” in the press to denote a mess or bad behaviour is also distasteful. Unlike the comparison the press constantly draws, a clown or indeed a circus must be orderly and efficient to work properly. And in the case of a circus, it takes teamwork – which is the opposite of the impression the press gives. Please could the fourth estate find other words to describe political behaviour. David Konyot, Tilney St Lawrence, Norfolk – Letters, 26 Dec 2018, theguardian.com

One can feel the clown tongue firmly planted in rose painted cheek. Continuing on in a similar vein, please find below a selection of hopefully comedic quotes I have collated at the tail end of this long and eventful year that seems to have now gone by in a flash. Enjoy!


Remember. Kevin McCallister could have phoned the police at any time. He was a child who had accidentally been left alone. One call and he would have been safe. But it was never about safety. He was hunting those men. He wanted them to die. It was fun for him. He enjoyed it. – Trevor Moore, Dec 2018

During 2018 in the UK Brexit continued to create total chaos. Actually, I went back home last week to Malawi because I just wanted to see what it was like to be under a stable government. – Daliso Chaponda, Dec 2018

I love travelling internationally but I don’t like the long lines and bureaucracy of immigration and customs. Apparently Australia is the worst at this because Australia is so far from the rest of the planet that they are really strict about you not bringing in plants or fruit into their country, because they are worried that if foreign bodies enter Australia they’ll kill people and destroy the environment. Which is a very fair point, because if you ask the Aboriginals they will tell you that if you let foreign bodies enter Australia they’ll kill people and destroy the environment. – Hari Kondabolu

The Republicans’ current attitude to Trump is of turning a blind eye to your racist builder because you just need to get the conservatory finished…Trump has not refashioned the GOP in his own image. He has achieved something more significant: he has managed to maintain a semantic distance from the Republican party despite cheerfully delivering its agenda…Trump might, I suppose, be a Russian spy: it would certainly explain why he can’t speak English. It’s not that he’s normalising his own behaviour; it’s that, by comparison, he’s normalising that of dreadful people everywhere. – Frankie Boyle

This is not normal. In the age of President Donald Trump, it is necessary to repeat this mantra constantly. The ways in which Trump breaks norms and shocks the conscience overwhelm America’s capacity to process each event with the appropriate level of outrage and accountability. America’s attention too often moves from one story to the next like sports highlights. Slowly, surely, America’s norms are stripped away. – Michael H Fuchs

Saudi Arabia murdered the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Britain was really annoyed about that. We sent them a very sternly worded arms invoice. To be fair to Saudi Arabia they are modernising. Next year they are going to start doing all their beheadings by chainsaw…Trump’s commitment to Saudi Arabia as a key ally has not wavered this year, despite the CIA concluding that Saudi crowned prince Mohammad Bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi…I think we should probably delay judgement until we know just how much money Saudi Arabia is prepared to give us…Also, can we really take the moral high ground about royal families sanctioning murder? – Frankie Boyle, Dec 2018, from his BBC TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

If you had told me in the 1990’s that between Bill Cosby and Donald Trump, one would go on to become president and one would be going to jail for rape, I would have got that one wrong. – Ted Alexandro

The French are lazy. That’s why they eat snails. It’s the only thing they can catch. – Micky Flanagan

Trump knows so little about black people that he probably thinks Martin Luther King’s last name is ‘Boulevard’. – Dulce Sloan

Like most men, in the bathroom my wife has allowed me to have two inches of space in the top right hand side of the bathroom cabinet. It doesn’t matter how big the bathroom gets or how big the cabinet gets, you’re allowed two inches of space, top right hand side, slightly back a bit. I call it ‘my little Palestine’ up there, I do. It’s under constant attack. I’ve only got to turn away a couple of days and suddenly it’s invaded. Glass cleaner, the mold remover. The Veet gets put there. – Mick Flanagan

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11 REALLY INTERESTING SHORT VIDEOS

In your everyday life a minute might not seem like much. After all, there is only so much one person can do in 60 seconds. But when it comes to the vastness of the internet, a minute goes much further than you can possibly imagine, so much so that there is such a thing as an “internet minute,” a term used to describe all the activity that happens on the web in 60 seconds. If you Google it you will come across all sorts of weird and wonderful facts and figures about how much data is uploaded to the internet every minute, how many Google searches are made in one minute, and so forth.

To really understand the internet in this context you have to break things down to the level of minutes, mainly because the internet has a degree of scale that our linear human brains are unaccustomed to operating on. Just to give you one mind blowing fact, in just one minute there are around 973,000 people logging on to Facebook. Not impressed? How about 481,000 tweets sent every minute? Or how about every minute of every day there are over 300 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube?

These numbers are big enough already, but any analysis done at a broader timescale, such as days, week, months or years, just make the numbers far too huge for us to comprehend. Just under 100 trillion emails sent in one year doesn’t really mean anything to anyone. Even looking at a day renders these numbers too big, such as one billion hours’ worth of content being viewed on YouTube every single day, which is just under 700,000 hours viewed every minute. And that’s just YouTube. In 2018 Netflix users were watching approximately 140 million hours per day, which works out to roughly 100,000 hours per minute according to my simple math.

Here is a diagram with more facts and figures, showing just some of what happens in an “internet minute”:

Internet Minute 2018

These figures keep going up and up each year, and they show no signs of slowing down. For comparison purposes here are the figures for 2016:

Internet Minute 2016Going back to YouTube, what with over 300 hours being uploaded every minute, how do you know what to watch? How do you know you are not wasting your precious time? To perhaps help in that endeavour, presented below are 11 personally selected short videos that I hope you will find interesting. Most of these are funny, but a few are rather serious, probably because I am trying to make myself look more serious than I actually am, or probably because I am trying to give myself an air of maturity that I clearly do not deserve. Anyways, enjoy!…


We start with a sketch from the Australian comedy talk show Salam Café, all about the do’s and don’ts of Ramadan in an office environment…

Comedian Salma Hindy also offers some much needed Ramadan advice…

Moving on to a similar theme, here is the comedian Karim Jovian living his awkward Muslim life, this time in the context of a party…

Franchesca Ramsey presents 4 very basic reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid of Muslims…

This year Coca Cola had quite a nice advert made specially for Ramadan…

A few years earlier Coca Cola very cleverly asked us to remove preconceived labels we have for each other…

In a similar vein here we have American talk show host Ellen speaking to a non-Muslim woman who defended a Muslim subway rider…

Carrying on the good natured feeling of the previous videos, here we have various comedians offering advice to a married couple, one Muslim and one non-Muslim, about their upcoming trip to America…

Another comedian, Samantha Bee, does her utmost in trying to make us all care about the war in Yemen…

On a serious note, here is Birmingham based scholar Shaykh Zahir Mahmood with his blistering May 2018 verbal attack on the gang culture so prevalent in Birmingham and elsewhere in the UK…

Finally, as someone who is trying to be a practicing Muslim maybe I shouldn’t really mention music, but I think this new video from Barbra Streisand is worth a look. You’ll know why once you see it…

HAPPINESS IS LARGELY AN ILLUSION

Please find below 14 quotes collected over the last 2 weeks on a range of topics, such as: Trump, happiness, Brexit, Christmas, and Jesus. To be honest, most are about Trump. Again. So no surprise there then. Some are funny, some are serious, but I hope all are interesting. Enjoy!

Tom Tomorrow Stranger

Well, this last week was a pretty bad year for Donald Trump. Think about what’s currently under investigation for him: Trump’s campaign, his transition, his inauguration, his business, and his presidency. So everyone check your cards because you might have impeachment bingo. In fact, Trump has reportedly told people close to him that he’s worried he will get impeached. And by people close to him I, of course, mean Sean Hannity and Colonel Sanders. This is a lot of legal trouble for any president. I mean, I’m no lawyer but neither is Trump’s lawyer. This week Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and he claimed he only committed his crimes out of a blind loyalty to Trump. But Cohen was clearly a crook before he met Donald Trump. You know how I know? He was hired by Donald Trump! The only questions on a Trump application are “Do you do crimes?” and “Wanna do more?” – from the TV show Saturday Night Live, 15 Dec 2018

President Trump responded to Michael Cohen’s sentencing by tweeting “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law.” Fair, but you know who else is supposed to know the law? The frigging president of the United States! I can’t get past that. I mean, the Pope should know the Bible. Santa should know the meaning of Christmas. The president should know the law. Dude, we’re paying you money for this. Am I bugging? Am I crazy? I mean, he’s the president. He’s got to know the law. Doctors know medicine. Arby’s knows meat. If I told you I’m an astronaut and you ask me about the moon, and I say “The moon?” – from the TV show Saturday Night Live, 15 Dec 2018

Happiness, in any case, is largely an illusion. We tend to think of other people as being or at least looking happy. And definitely happier than ourselves. The fact is they aren’t, we just think they are. All those blissfully smiling beautiful people – they’re just as screwed up as everyone else. Social media only serves to spread the delusion. I once asked my son, who was supposed to be studying at university at the time, if his life was constant partying. “Why would you think that?” He asked. “Because all I see of you on Facebook is pictures of you dancing or getting drunk at parties.” He scoffed at my naivety. “That’s only because no one ever posts pictures of themselves sitting at the library and reading a book or writing an essay.” Happiness is a myth that only serves the interests of the happiness-conjurors and the manufacturers of birthday cards. I think happiness has now entered its twilight zone. I can’t see feeling good being of any intrinsic value unless it is also coupled to doing good. Aristotle had something like this in mind when he defined happiness (or eudaimonia) as leading a virtuous life. – Andy Martin

What makes me happy? I don’t even think happiness is really what it’s about. I think meaning is what’s important to people. Meaning trumps happiness at any point, and the way you find meaning in life is to find something that’s bigger than you and then you just throw yourself into that thing. It gets you out of yourself, it gets you out of just this [you’re own mind] and into something that means more. – Derren Brown, Dec 2018, from an interview on the TV show The Russell Howard Hour

I love it here in the UK, it’s nice. When are you guys having another referendum? Ooooh! Can’t wait for the referendum! For me the referendum was silly because you guys were trying to leave Europe. It’s physically impossible for you guys to leave Europe. You are IN Europe. Where are you going to go? Because you are not welcome in Africa. You are not welcome. You are not welcome AT ALL! Fool me once! The last referendum South Africa had was in 1992. The question was: should apartheid end or should apartheid continue? But only white people were allowed to vote. – Loyiso Gola, South African comedian

This is America and in America rich people pay Fox News people to make middle class people blame poor people. So you have a guy who is born at the top of the economic ladder telling terrified white people they are going to lose their spot at the middle of that ladder, and that their problems come from the low income brown people who are in fact propping up the entire f***ing ladder. – John Fugelsang, Nov 2018

Trump is impossible to write about in an interesting way. The worst thing about Trump is how profoundly boring he is. This man has no working intellect as far as we can tell, he’s a series of noise effects. Rage and appetite and terror and bullying, that’s all he is, that’s all he’s ever been and that’s all he’ll ever be. It’s soul-killing to wake up every day and he’s the president of the United States. It’s this big, open sinkhole instead of a soul. This creature, it’s like an id fragment. Besides, the worst thing you can do to Trump is to not talk about him. – Tony Kushner, American playwright, Dec 2018

Dangerous time when our country is led by those who will lie about anything, backed by those who will believe anything, based on information from media sources that will say anything. Americans must break out of that bubble and seek truth. – tweet from James Comey, former FBI Director, 23 May 2018

Why must everything, in America, be a contest? It’s our capitalist imperialist ethos. Our desire to judge, to gossip and to degrade. Donald Trump unleashes these forces on the most vulnerable. But for those of us opposed to him we often find ourselves replicating his language and tactics, even if it is on more worthy subjects.  – Nick Pemberton

We see the culture of degrading and humiliating others—almost for bloodsport—go viral under Trump. The goal is to ruin your foe and make them your victim. Once you conquer them you leave their corpse hanging on the public square. The internet acts as a public forum to embarrass and judge each other while never being honest about ourselves. It’s the celebrity and sport and war and porn culture taking over the mainstream imagination. – Nick Pemberton

I find that I am most happy when I find a place for radical compassion in these days. Not as an excuse for hate, but as a panacea to it. We have become so blinded by our consumed hatred for Trump that we have no space left to confront the hatred by Trump. – Nick Pemberton

Trump’s going to get away with it. This guy is touched by an angel. Boo all you want. He’s not going to get impeached. Listen to me. He figured out a way to cheat on his pregnant wife with a porn star and a playmate, then cover it up with hush money in the middle of a presidential election, which he lost by three million votes and still won. He’s not getting impeached. The only way he’s leaving office is if Democrats beat him in 2020, which brings me to my next stinger. Democrats aren’t going to beat him in 2020…In your heart you know that Democrats will trip all over themselves and blow it somehow…Republicans buy into their candidate. Show the Republicans any old white man, and they’re good to go. Democrats are so picky when it comes to presidential candidates. Democrats are like your fussy friend at a restaurant. They got too many questions, too many substitutions. They’re like “Can I have the fried chicken but instead of fried can it be grilled? And instead of chicken can it be fish? No? Then I’m ordering the Jill Stein as a protest order.” – Neal Brennan, 12 Dec 2018, from the TV program The Daily Show

The truth is always better. Kids, let Uncle Neal chat to you for a minute. Santa didn’t bring you those gifts. Your parents paid for them. How? By working their fingers to the bone at a job they hate that doesn’t pay them enough. So they go into debt to put a smile on your little face. A debt which has compounding interest that they will never truly get out from under. It just grows and grows and grows, weighing them down for their entire life until they are finally freed from their obligations by the sweet release of death. And that, children…is the true meaning of Christmas. – Neal Brennan, 12 Dec 2018, from the TV program The Daily Show

I don’t see any of the teachings of my youth in the contemporary American celebration of the birth of Christ. I see a handful of nativity scenes lit up on lawns here and there. I hear Silent Night blaring at maximum volume over speakers installed on down town light poles near the shopping area. I read the occasional op-ed written by the local United Church of Christ Pastor making her best effort to remind people of the term “Prince of Peace”. But I don’t see a whole lot of that at Christmas. I see people throwing punches at Walmart. I read about the statistics of how the suicidal ideation rates spike over the holidays. I don’t see many peacemakers out there either. I see arms manufacturers, weapons of death makers, and the politicians who campaign with pledges to keep those death machine making jobs in their state. I don’t see much in the way of mercy anywhere either, I see the absence of mercy. And I sure as hell don’t see anybody whipping bankers. I see bankers whipping us. – Steve Carlson, Dec 2018

TAP WATER IS THE TASTE OF CIVILIZATION

Refugee Cycle

As always there is a lot going on in the Muslim world, assuming you agree there is such a thing as “the Muslim world” (not sure what colour pill you need to take to get there). Consequently many articles have been written, and continue to be written, by many a journalist on a variety of Islamic-related topics. To save you time I have read many of these articles and present to you below my favourite ones currently doing the rounds.

Yet again it has been a bit of an up-and-down time for us Muslims. We lost a Zayn Malik but we gained a Sinead O’Connor. But I have not chosen any articles below about this subject matter at all. Nor have I chosen any articles about the ongoing fallout over the death of Jamal Khashoggi. Yemen and Palestine also fail to get a mention. And neither have I chosen any articles about Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan saying there is no historical evidence for the existence of the Christian Jesus. My initial reaction upon hearing this? Can you just get on with it! Can you just govern the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and not get side-tracked with nonsense such as this. I can imagine Khan at a rally saying something like “People of Pakistan, I know you are suffering from poverty, from disease, from power shortages, from food shortages, and from domestic terrorism. But I say this to you, and I say it with the utmost confidence…the Christian Jesus did not exist!…So sleep well tonight knowing this…” Just get on with it Khan!

Instead you will find articles below about the state of drinking water in Pakistan, the chaos and stupidity surrounding the “blasphemer” Asia Bibi (again in Pakistan), the mercy (rahma) of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims now being granted permission to keep their beards in the American air force, Christian charitable shoeboxes that in reality are “gift-wrapped Islamophobia,” and a mosque in Turkey where for nearly 40 years they were praying in the wrong direction.

As a bonus, the cartoon image presented above is a simple yet effective way of describing how the refugee cycle works in many parts of the world, a picture definitely speaking a thousand words in this instance. And again, to save you time clicking here, there, and everywhere, each article is presented in full. Happy reading, hope you enjoy!


Let Them Drink Bottled Water

Mohammed Hanif, 23 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

Bottled Water

Karachi, Pakistan — Twice a week every week, I lug four empty bottles of Nestlé Pure Life water to a shop near my home and lug back, one by one, four full bottles of Nestlé Pure Life. Each bottle contains 18.9 liters of safe drinking water. The labels on the bottles advise me to drink at least eight glasses of water every day.

This is our drinking water, our tea-making water, the water we use for cooking, the water we make ice with. Drinking tap water in Pakistan — if you are lucky enough to have a tap with running water — would mean putting your family’s health at some serious risk. For our other water needs — washing ourselves, laundry and house cleaning — we have to buy a tanker that holds 5,000 liters. Deliveries are so unpredictable that the tanker might arrive at 3 a.m. But even then, it’s welcome.

Sometimes I get to travel to Europe, and one of the unapologetic joys of this privilege is to be able to open the tap and gulp down a glass of water or even slurp without fear from a public fountain. That’s the taste of civilization.

Water scarcity is a subject of serious debate in Pakistan, of the occasional riot and sometimes of long queues at rare public wells or sources. The chief justice of the Supreme Court has set up a fund to build two dams and is asking for donations.

Public drinking water here wasn’t always poisonous. Even toward the end of the 1990s, bottled water was reserved for the ultra-elite — for heads of state hosting other heads of states or for posh Pakistanis who vacationed on the French Riviera.

But today, thanks to pollution and a lack of investment in infrastructure, if you don’t drink bottled or filtered water, you are condemning yourself and your little ones to horrible diseases and maybe even to a new form of the ancient affliction called death by contamination. According to one estimate, 53,000 children in Pakistan die of diarrhea every year after drinking water containing dangerous bacteria. According to another estimate, 40 percent of all deaths in Pakistan are caused by water contaminated with sewage, industrial waste, arsenic or diseases.

You would think that those figures alone would be a national health emergency, and that making sure people have access to clean water would be the priority of every single political party. But in any footage of a high-level political or administrative meeting, you see rows and rows of water bottles, one for every official. Our elites have already solved Pakistan’s water problem: Spend 30 rupees (about 20 cents) and pick up a half-liter.

The previous government, which lost the latest general election this summer, takes credit for mega energy projects, shiny airports and new motorways and seaports. But the major water-filtration project it launched turned out to be a scam. When it comes to the basic human need for clean drinking water, we have essentially been told to fend for ourselves.

And people do just that. Those who can’t afford to buy bottled or filtered water drink whatever comes out of the nearest tap, source or pond and leave the rest to the doctor they can’t afford either or to Allah, whom everyone can afford.

Anyway, those of us who can pay for water may only be buying some of the poison that the water we’re paying for was supposed to save us from. Earlier this year, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources announced that at least eight brands of bottled water — brands with fancy names like Aqua Fine, Pure Aqua, Aqua Gold, Pure 18 and Aab-e-Noor (Water of Light) — were contaminated.

Even when that little plastic bottle contains clean water, it isn’t saving us from death or disease so much as condemning us to a future where we can’t even think of public access to drinking water as everyone’s birthright.

Increasingly, both in Pakistan and elsewhere, when you go to a public event as a speaker or a panelist, the first thing that appears in front of you is a bottle of water. Sometimes you hold onto it as if it might save you from the wrath of the audience. I have heard of writers demanding warm raki at their event, but never of a writer saying, “Can you please take this bottle away and give me some tap water instead?” When hotels automatically stock your room with a complimentary bottle and restaurants greet you with “Still or sparkling?” asking for tap water would mean outing yourself as a miser or a fusspot.

I know that people have refined tastes, including for this or that healthy mineral in their water. But the array of bottled waters available on the market is a testament to the fact that humans can be conned into buying anything. And this con may be the most basic one in the world: I steal your water and then I sell it to you. And you’ll buy it because, surely, you don’t want your children to die a painful death.

By now, people who want to help solve this problem seem hopelessly earnest. The Supreme Court’s chief justice has asked banks, the media and the government to help him raise funds for his dams. He has ordered some petitioners in his court to contribute. There are ads on the radio and TV that go “Ao Dams Banain Hum” (Let’s Build a Dam).

Building a big shiny structure that makes a mark on the scenery probably seems like making history. But beyond the inherent absurdity of crowdfunding what should be a public infrastructure project — as one critic has said, “the state cannot be run like a charity” — it would be cheaper than building those dams to make existing water supplies drinkable and disease-free. Yet there’s little discussion about that.

In 2010, I witnessed the devastation caused by floods in Sindh, a southern province. The civic-minded went out there to help the affected, and the first thing they did was to throw truckloads of bottled water at the people who had nothing left — no home, nothing to eat or drink — except the tattered clothes on their bodies. It was a perfect image for a planet in its death throes. And the people fleeing the deluge took the little plastic bottles of water, as much for the bottles as for the water.

Mohammed Hanif (@mohammedhanif) is the author of the novels “A Case of Exploding Mangoes,” “Our Lady of Alice Bhatti” and “Red Birds.” He is a contributing opinion writer.


True Islam Does Not Kill Blasphemers

Mustafa Akyol, 21 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

The Quran has 6,236 verses, none of which tell the faithful to stifle blasphemy by force.

The agony of Asia Bibi, a 54-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of five, shows there is something rotten in her country, Pakistan — and in the broader world of Islam.

She was arrested for blasphemy in 2009 after Muslim co-workers on a destitute farm denounced her for merely drinking from the same cup and, during the subsequent quarrel, for “insulting Prophet Muhammad” — a charge Ms. Bibi always denied. Yet she was convicted in 2010 and spent the next eight years in solitary confinement, on death row.

Luckily, Pakistan’s Supreme Court last month saved her from execution, clearing her of the charges and also setting her free. But Pakistan’s militant Islamists, especially those in the notorious Tehreek-e-Labbaik religious party, which is obsessed with punishing blasphemers, were enraged. They forced the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to accept a court petition to reverse the case and bar Ms. Bibi from leaving the country. She and her family, fearing vigilante violence, went into hiding.

I am hoping that the traumatized family will be able to leave Pakistan safely, to find asylum in some free nation. As a Muslim, I feel ashamed of the cruelty they have suffered at the hands of people who act in the name of my faith.

Of course, in this story there are righteous Muslims to be proud of as well. They include the Supreme Court judges, whose prudent decision that saved Ms. Bibi noted the Prophet Muhammad’s tolerance for Christians. They include Punjabi politician Salman Taser, who stood up for Ms. Bibi in 2011, only to be assassinated for that by his own bodyguard. They include three British imams, who recently joined the campaign to grant asylum to Ms. Bibi in Britain.

In other words, the militant Islamists who want to kill all blasphemers, real or perceived, do not define Islam. But they do define a fanatic, ferocious, dangerous strain within Islam.

This strain has led to various attacks on freedom of expression, the bedrock of civilization, over the past three decades. The first one was the Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s infamous 1989 “death fatwa” calling for the execution of the author Salman Rushdie for his irreverent novel, “The Satanic Verses.” Then came the violent reactions to cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2005. Terrorist attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo followed. And among nations like Pakistan, Iran, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, Ms. Bibi is only one of the many victims of blasphemy laws.

Muslims who support such violent or oppressive responses to blasphemy are missing two important points. One is that it is them, not the blasphemers, who are defaming Islam, by presenting it as an immature tradition that has little room for civilized discourse. The second point is that their zealotry is not as religiously grounded as they think.

To see this, one must look at the Quran — the most fundamental and only undisputed source of Islam. Most notably, throughout all of its 6,236 verses, it never tells Muslims to silence blasphemy with force. It tells them only to respond with dignity.

This appears in the Quranic verses that addressed the tensions between the earliest Muslims and other communities nearby. “You are sure to hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Scripture before you and from those who associate others with God,” one such verse tells Muslims, only to add, “If you are steadfast and mindful of God, that is the best course.” [3:186]

Another Quranic verse holds up as model Muslims “those who walk humbly on the earth, and who, when the foolish address them, reply, ‘Peace.’” [25:63] Yet another verse addresses the issue of mockery, telling Muslims that when they hear people who ridicule “God’s revelations,” they should just “not sit with them.” [4:140]

However, as Islamic jurisprudence developed over the centuries, much was added to the spirit of the Quran, based often on dubious reports about the words and deeds of the prophet. Blasphemy, in particular sabb al-rasul, or “insulting the prophet,” gradually became a capital crime — but only with objections from prominent jurists like Abu Hanifa, the eighth-century founder of one of the four main Sunni schools. A bigger sin than insulting the prophet is disbelief in God, he reasoned, but Islam decrees no punishment for that.

Today, Pakistan’s liberals, most of whom are faithful Muslims, are referring to such sources in the Islamic tradition to argue against blasphemy laws. They are right. Those laws should be abandoned — in Pakistan and elsewhere.

At the same time, Muslim opinion leaders should help their societies understand that these laws serve not the honor of Islam, but much more mundane interests — for example, persecuting non-Muslim minorities out of greed or jealousy, or silencing Muslims themselves who criticize and challenge the powers that be.

And all Muslims of good faith should stand up more forcefully for people like Asia Bibi, who is falsely accused of blasphemy. Also, they should tolerate those who really do blaspheme and at most “not sit with them,” as the Quran counsels.

They should walk away, saying, “Peace.”

Mustafa Akyol is a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute and the author, most recently, of “The Islamic Jesus.”


Happy Birthday, Muhammad

Haroon Moghul, 20 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

The prophet was an outsider. Just like me.

Tuesday is the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. It’s the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal, the day most Muslims believe he came into the world some 1,400 years ago.

I first met Muhammad in August 1998. I was fresh out of high school in Somers, Conn., and my brother and I made the road trip from Jidda, where he was working for the summer, to Medina to pay our respects at Muhammad’s tomb.

I must have looked ridiculous. I was drowning in elephantine JNCO jeans and carried a backpack with a Pearl Jam patch ironed on. I was probably wearing the boisterous baseball cap of some snowboard manufacturer; I hope I left the wallet chains at home.

I was on my way out of Islam when I made my way with the rush of tens of thousands of pilgrims shuffling from the prayer hall southward toward his tomb. I was headed to atheism. Or Catholicism. I was 18 years old and hadn’t decided which way of life would give me the warmth I felt my faith lacked, and the freedom I believed it denied me.

But I showed up in Medina that summer because I thought I’d give Islam one more chance. I hadn’t expected the moment to mean much to me, because Islam didn’t mean much to me. But there I was, facing the resting place of the prophet, overcome with emotion.

I’d memorized Muhammad’s life story in Sunday school, cramming facts, dates, lineages into my head as if I was preparing for an A.P. exam, a good Muslim like my parents wanted me to be. But it had thus far been so much data — cold, abstract and inhuman.

In Medina I realized I actually believed all the stories about him. That he buried the least loved of his fellow Arabs with his own hands. That he put two of his fingers together and promised that he and the orphan would be that close in the life to come. That he so loved the vulnerable that God loved him in turn.

Sitting facing his tomb, pilgrims pressing against me on every side, I honest to God missed him. I still feel that way today, as absurd as it might sound. He is a living presence in my life.

My connection to him was — and is — peculiarly American. It was initiated by my parents’ piety, inflected by my numerous ailments, was thrown into relief by extremism and today inspires me to help build a United States to which all of us belong.

It began with the troubled circumstances of my birth: I had a malformed intestinal tract. Had I been born a few decades earlier, I would have died very early on. As a sick child, I spent much of my time indoors, with books my parents encouraged, many of which were about Muhammad.

He was an outsider like me. Being an orphan from age 6 in a very patrilineal, very patriarchal and very tribal society must have been a social death sentence. Muhammad could have reacted by seething with resentment and lashing out at the world. He could have turned on himself. Instead he became a paragon of compassion.

When he first proclaimed prophecy, even his own uncle laughed at him, but he never laughed back. His followers were reviled, beaten and killed. He didn’t strike back. Rather he ran from one town to another, like Hagar at Paran, desperate to find his people refuge. Twelve years into his religious mission, in the year 622, he was forced to flee his native Mecca and arrived a refugee in Medina — but the people who chased him there didn’t leave him be. Not long after finding safe harbor, he was forced to take up arms, time and again, to defend his faith, his community, and himself.

But even as he did, he remained dedicated to building a society that would provide the inclusion he (and his followers) had been deprived of. The old Muslims from Mecca had just met the new Muslims from Medina, and Muhammad paired them off, each responsible for the other as they worked to make Medina flourish. This was hard work, and represents the most misunderstood part of Muhammad’s life: Taking Jesus as their template, many critics wonder how a leader who pursues politics can still be a religious model.

When terrorists struck New York and Washington in 2001 I was horrified, scared and bewildered. The Muhammad I revered bore no resemblance to the Muhammad they claimed. In their view, Muhammad was a conqueror first, a politician and a general second, and a man of faith last, and least.

This is a gross misunderstanding of his life, and an inversion of the message he actually preached. When he had nowhere else to turn, when he couldn’t find anyone to protect his community, then — and only then — did he take up arms to defend his faith.

But the politics he attempted are instructive. In one of his first pronouncements in Medina, he pledged that the Muslim community would defend the native Jewish community from any of its enemies, and declared Medina to be one nation of two faiths, a profound and unusual gesture of pluralism and tolerance.

This vision that Muhammad offered for Medina is the one that drives my life’s work, especially in the years since Sep. 11. I’ve dedicated my time, my energy and often my reputation to building bridges between Jewish and Muslim communities. We don’t have to agree about everything to respect each other. And we don’t have to see eye-to-eye to look out for each other. I believe such work to be a sacred calling, good for Jews and for Muslims, but good for America, too.

On the occasion of his birthday, we Americans would do well to study Muhammad’s life: He preached and attempted a politics of tolerance, which is not what people of faith are associated with today. Muslims could stand for re-examining his life, too. Muhammad is called a “rahmah,” a mercy. He is often addressed as “habib Allah,” the beloved of God. If these are not words our communities are associated with, we should take a long look in the mirror and wonder why.

Muhammad was rahmah for me more than two decades ago in Medina. We could all use a little mercy these days.

Haroon Moghul is a fellow in Jewish-Muslim relations at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America and the author of “How To Be A Muslim: An American Story.”


Air Force Grants Beard Waiver To Muslim Airman

Corey Dickstein, 20 Nov 2018, stripes.com

Gaitan

US Air Force Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, an 821st Contingency Response Squadron aerial porter at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., has become the first Airman to be granted a religious accommodation for a shaving waiver based on his Muslim faith. Liliana Moreno/US Air force.

Washington — The Air Force has quietly approved a request by a Muslim airman to grow a beard, making it one of the service’s first such religious accommodations for a follower of Islam, Air Force officials said.

Staff Sgt. Abdul Rahman Gaitan, 30, was granted the appearance exception in August to grow a beard in keeping with his Muslim faith, officials said, but the Air Force only publicly announced his waiver two weeks ago in a public affairs-produced article published on the service’s website. Gaitan is an aerial porter assigned to the 821st Contingency Response Support Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., according to the Air Force.

The Air Force had reported Gaitan was the first Muslim airman to receive the religious accommodation for his beard. But Tuesday, Capt. Carrie J. Volpe, an Air Force spokeswoman, said Gaitan was not the first. Eight airmen, including Gaitan, have received the religious accommodation, with a ninth in the works, Volpe said.

Since 2014, the Pentagon has allowed servicemembers to appeal to military leadership for the right to wear certain items mandated by their religions that would not be allowed under standard grooming and appearance regulations of the services. The Army, for example, has allowed brigade commanders to determine whether soldiers may wear certain religious items, including beards and turbans for Sikh soldiers and hijabs for female Muslim soldiers. More recently, the Army approved a soldier’s request to grow a beard as part of his claim to follow a Norse Pagan religion.

While not all Muslim men wear beards, some of them believe facial hair is a requirement of the religion’s male followers.

Gaitan, who converted to Islam following an Air Force stint at a base near Izmir in Turkey in 2011, said his beard is in keeping with the following of the Prophet Muhammad.

“It is a constant reminder of our faith and who we are as Muslims,” he said, according to the Air Force article.

The airman said he had received some negative reactions since he began growing his beard, including questions from fellow airmen about whether he was a terrorist or had decided to join Islamic State. But others came to Gaitan’s defense, he said.

“The incident shot straight to the commander, like a lightning bolt, and the following morning, I was called into his office with the chief and first sergeant waiting for me,” he said in the article. “In my entire career, I’ve never had a commander look me in the eyes like he did…his look, tone, words and posture were shouting at me, ‘Don’t worry, we have your back.’ ”

After the meeting, the commander reminded the unit of the Air Force’s zero-tolerance policy on discrimination.

“I walked out of there with a feeling I had never felt as a Hispanic Muslim airman,” Gaitan said. “I finally felt like I was fully part of the Air Force family and that my peers and my leadership would fight to protect me.”


This Christmas, Beware Evangelical Christians Bearing Gifts

Polly Toynbee, 08 Nov 2018, theguardian.com

The Samaritan’s Purse charity sends gift boxes to children in Muslim countries. They contain a pernicious, hidden agenda.

All over the country, Operation Christmas Child is up and running again. The scheme urges people to pack up a shoebox with toys, pens, notebooks and treats for a poor child. Schools often join in because children love doing it: there is something romantic and mysterious about sending a secret collection of gifts to an unknown child in a faraway land.

Participating drop-off points include major companies, such as Caffè Nero, Shoe Zone, The Entertainer, Barratt Homes and some newspaper offices, such as Luton Today. The volunteer organisation Worcester Lions Club is packing shoeboxes inside Waitrose. Geoff Lewis of the club said: “It’s not known where the boxes will eventually end up at this time. But what is certain is that it will be with a child somewhere in the world that will not be receiving another Christmas present this year.” Maybe if people did know, they might hesitate.

Wales Online reports that Glamorgan cricket team and the Cardiff Blues rugby club are also supporters of the scheme, the former reporting last year that they had helped to load “over 10,000 gift boxes on to vehicles leaving the south Wales depot for a destination in Albania”.

Albania? That’s the clue – a mainly Muslim country, the kind of place where most of these shoeboxes are destined. The sort of countries that, indeed, as in the awful song, do not know it’s Christmastime at all.

Many good-hearted packers of shoeboxes know little of the organisation behind this scheme. It’s run by Samaritan’s Purse, fundamentalist American evangelical Christian missionaries. After the boxes are dispatched, they are then delivered along with a missionary book of bible stories, The Greatest Gift, with “the 12 Bible lessons offered by many of the churches distributing shoeboxes,” according to the Samaritan’s Purse website. “157 million children in over 160 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child.”

A story from its website tells how a shoebox converted a Muslim family to Christianity: “Angella received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filled with presents last year at this time. Since then she’s led her Muslim family to Christ.

“Christmas is all about the unexpected: an angel appearing to shepherds, a virgin conceiving, God becoming man…Something unexpected and wonderful began among the Kulemba family of Malawi, a country in southern Africa. That day their 12-year-old daughter Angella received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift from the local church. Angella reads the gospel booklet to her family. All are now following Christ.”

The man who runs the Samaritan’s Purse, which has a £16m annual income, is Rev Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He spoke at the inauguration of both George W Bush and Donald Trump. In an interview with Newsmax, Graham claimed that Obama had “allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to become part of the US government and influence administration decisions”.

Strongly anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage, Graham defended Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “gay propaganda” law, praising him for “protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda”. He told the Washington Post that God had intervened to cause Trump’s election: “I could sense going across the country that God was going to do something this year. And I believe that at this election, God showed up.”

On Facebook he wrote, “We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the US until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalised – and they do their killing to honour their religion and Muhammad.”

Most people packing up shoeboxes don’t know they are used for anti-Muslim proselytising. Or that they are backing a pro-Trump, anti-gay message. Some may be from churches sharing that evangelical brand – but I would guess most parents and children haven’t a clue what they are supporting.

Humanists UK, of which I am vice-president, has drafted a template letter that people can sign informing schools and others, urging them to reconsider their support, and offering alternative suggestions. Richy Thompson, Humanists UK’s director of public affairs and policy, says: “Those who donate to the scheme are well-intentioned and want to make an altruistic contribution, but donors in the UK should be aware of the nature of Operation Christmas Child’s activities and instead find a reputable and inclusive charity that has no ulterior motives and only has children’s best interests at heart.”

No one wants to be the Grinch: filling shoeboxes is a feelgood act of generosity. But sending stacks of boxes with Christian missionary messages to Muslim countries is unlikely to ease interfaith tensions – nor is it an economical or ecological way to give: as ever, boring old money to good charities goes further. I note, also in the Luton News, one Lewsey residents’ association is calling for people to fill shoeboxes to be distributed by their local food bank – a far better idea than what one critic called “gift-wrapped Islamophobia”.


Imam Discovers Everyone In Mosque ‘Had Been Praying In Wrong Direction’ For 37 Years

Jon Sharman, 18 Oct 2018, independent.co.uk

Key part of building is misaligned.

Congregants at a mosque in Turkey had been praying in the wrong direction for nearly four decades before its new imam realised the error, according to reports in Turkish media.

The mosque in Sugoren, in the country’s western Yalova province, had a key flaw in its construction that meant faithful Muslims – who are instructed to kneel in the direction of Mecca during prayers – had misaligned themselves by as much as 33 degrees, the Daily Sabah reported.

Hurriyet, citing the Demiroren News Agency, said imam Isa Kaya was appointed last year and that, following rumours about the alignment of a niche in the mosque’s wall indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, he decided to ask the advice of local muftis.

The officials confirmed the niche, or mihrab, had been constructed in the wrong place when the mosque was built in 1981, it was reported.

Rather than tear down the niche immediately, Mr Kaya used a temporary measure to point people in the right direction – placing arrows made of white tape on the mosque’s carpet.

“We have explained the situation to our congregation and most of them have reacted positively to our solution,” the imam told Demiroren News Agency.

An architect will be given the task of redesigning the structure.

Dr Mustafa Baig, Lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter’s Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, explained the misalignment.

“It is important to emphasise that Muslims do not worship the Ka‘ba but it is the direction (or qibla) to which Muslims pray,” he said. “Worship is to Allah.”

“In the Qur’an it states: ‘Wherever you turn, there is the countenance of Allah (2:115).’ Moreover, the direction (or jiha) is determined by a 90 degree span and not at the exact angle of the Ka’ba.”

Dr Baig added: “The Qur’an mentions: ‘Turn your face in the direction of the Sacred Mosque’ (2:149) and the word shatar in this verse has been defined as one of the four cardinal directions, giving a leeway of 45 degrees to either side of the Ka‘ba: in other any aspect of the forehead should be facing the Ka‘ba. In this particular case, the niche was ‘misaligned’ by 33 degrees so it is with the 45 degree limit.

“Even in the event of praying outside the range of direction, the jurists stipulate that if one has made an effort to determine the direction of the qibla (where due diligence was made) then if later (after the prayer time has lapsed) it becomes known that the prayer direction was completely wrong, the prayer will be considered valid and need not repeated,” the lecturer added.

“In this case, therefore, the previous prayers would not be considered invalid and the placement of the prayer niche is also not ‘wrong’, although they may want to reposition it in order to be facing in the exact direction of the Ka’ba.”

SELFIES MAKE YOU MORE NARCISSISTIC

Internet Intervention

Technology. Marvellous, isn’t it? Why, at this very moment I am using the marvels of technology to type these very words which can be read by anyone on this globe with an internet connection. At the moment that is over 3 billion people who are online, just under half the world’s population. And, yes, the various tech giants are pushing hard to get as many of the rest online too. Marvellous. However, not everyone thinks all this tech is a good thing. Human innovation has transformed the way we live, often for the better. But as our technologies grow more powerful, so do their consequences. There are voices, growing in number and in decibels, who are decrying the various darker aspects of our ongoing love affair with all things digital. For a start, there is the issue of who is actually behind that article you just read.

Several years ago I went to a mosque in sunny Birmingham to listen to a Muslim scholar. I cannot recall the name of the speaker or what the topic was, but I do remember the preacher saying we should be careful when reading about Islam on the internet. He warned the gathered congregation that we should try to find out who actually wrote the article. Was it a Muslim? Was it a learned Muslim? A confused Muslim? An enemy of Islam, deliberately trying to confuse and obfuscate? He went one step further and suggested the article could indeed be written by a pesky jinn, a creature from the netherworld.

As soon as I heard this I started thinking how one could prove that an article on the web was or was not written by such a creature. Could we devise some sort of Islamic Turing test? Whilst this particular notion may seem rather farfetched, more recently people are asking if, when we are online, are we dealing with humans or bots. With the rise of Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Home Hub, chatbots, and bots galore on social media (Twitter has taken down a reported 6m bot accounts this year alone), we are spending more and more of our time talking to non-human entities. And as the line between human and digital voices blurs, perhaps we should be asking to whom exactly are we talking to? The comedian John Mulaney does a brilliant bit of stand up about how crazy this particular situation has become…

Everything’s fast now and it’s totally unreasonable. The world is run by computers. The world is run by robots and sometimes they ask us if we’re a robot, just because we’re trying to log on and look at our own stuff, multiple times a day. “May I see my stuff please?” “I smell a robot! Prove, prove, prove you’re not a robot. Look at these curvy letters, much curvier than most letters, wouldn’t you say? No robot could ever read these. You look, mortal, if ye be, you look and you type what you think you see? Is it an ‘E’ or is it a ‘3’? That’s up to ye. The passwords have passed, you’ve correctly guessed. But now it’s time for the robot test! I’ve devised a question no robot could ever answer. Which of these pictures does not have a stop sign in it?” What?! You spend a lot of your day telling a robot that you’re not a robot. Think about that for two minutes and tell me you don’t want to walk into the ocean. – John Mulaney, 15 Apr 2018, from the opening monologue of Saturday Night Live

These types of activities that many of us engage in online on a regular basis are a weird turn of events. The Turing test was originally conceived as a way of enabling us humans to determine whether a machine could respond in such a way that one couldn’t tell whether it was a human or a robot. But now we have wandered into a topsy-turvy world in which the machines make us humans jump through hoops to prove that we are humans and not robots. We began by shaping our tools and now it seems our tools are shaping us.

This is just one of many concerns about technology. There are plenty of others unfortunately, such as how sexism flourishes online, a point recently brought into sharp focus by the sister of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook:

With regards to the toxic moment we are in, it is without doubt that social media has allowed this to happen. It has created the opportunity for men with anti-feminist ideas to broadcast their views to more people than ever before – and to spread conspiracy theories, lies and misinformation. Social media has elevated misogyny to entirely new levels of violence and virulence. – Donna Zuckerberg

The internet overall is vastly male dominated. Men are on average 33.5% more likely to have internet access than women, according to the Inclusive Internet Index, a survey of 86 countries that are home to 91% of the global population. In some poor, urban areas, men outnumber women online by as much as two to one. The main reason is due to inequalities in education. Women across the world do more unpaid care work than men, and so have less free time and less money than men, and so are less likely to own and use a mobile phone, or spend time on the internet. It is no surprise that not knowing how and not being able to afford it, can act as barriers to being online.

They also have to contend with various patriarchal societies where technology, and the wider online world, are seen as male preserves. And, to be honest, with the amount of sexism online, many of them may not want to. I personally know of at least three women who are no longer on Facebook due to the unwanted male attention they were constantly receiving. Simply put, misogyny and sexism are rife on “the glory hole that is the internet” (to grossly quote the New York based comedian Fareeha Khan).

Other tech related issues include increased narcissism due to the increased amount of selfies we take, the addictive nature of screen time (especially for kids), technological progress offering us more and more bewildering choice, and too many others to mention. These issues, and more, are discussed in the articles presented below. As always only selected quotes are presented, but each article is well worth reading in full…


Posting selfies makes you more narcissistic…

Posting Lots Of Selfies Makes You More Narcissistic, Study Suggests

Chris Baynes, 09 Nov 2018, independent.co.uk

Excessive use of social media, in particular by posting pictures and selfies, is linked to a subsequent increase in narcissism, according to a new study.

Heavy users of platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat displayed a 25-per-cent average rise in narcissistic behaviour over four months, the research found. Psychologists at Swansea University and Milan University studied personality changes in 74 people aged 18 to 34. They also assessed participants’ use of social media over a four-month period. The researchers found “problematic” use of visual forms of social media, such as posting selfies, “appears to drive levels of narcissism” in a way that primarily textual usage does not.

Internet usage is defined as problematic when there are multiple negative impacts on an individual’s life, such as withdrawal effects when disconnected and interference with friendships.

All but one of the study’s participants used social media, with their average usage – excluding for work – about three hours a day. Some reported using social media for as much as eight hours a day for non-work related purposes. Facebook was used by 60 per cent of participants, while a quarter used Instagram and 13 per cent used Twitter and Snapchat each. More than two-thirds of the participants primarily used social media for posting images.

Over the four months, the increase in narcissistic traits took many of the participants above the clinical cut-off for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissism is a personality characteristic that can involve grandiose exhibitionism, a sense of entitlement, and exploiting others.

Professor Phil Reed, of the Department of Psychology at Swansea University, said: “There have been suggestions of links between narcissism and the use of visual postings on social media, such as Facebook, but, until this study, it was not known if narcissists use this form of social media more, or whether using such platforms is associated with the subsequent growth in narcissism. The results of this study suggest that both occur, but show that posting selfies can increase narcissism. Taking our sample as representative of the population, which there is no reason to doubt, this means that about 20 per cent of people may be at risk of developing such narcissistic traits associated with their excessive visual social media use. That the predominant usage of social media for the participants was visual, mainly through Facebook, suggests the growth of this personality problem could be seen increasingly more often, unless we recognise the dangers in this form of communication.”


In fact, selfies can kill you…

I’m Not Surprised An Israeli Teen Fell To His Death Taking A Selfie On Holiday – I Used To Be That Obsessive Myself

Shappi Khorsandi, 07 Sep 2018, independent.co.uk

In the news this week I read that an 18-year-old boy fell 800ft and died as he tried to take a selfie at the edge of a waterfall in Yosemite National Park.

Do we, as parents, not have enough to worry about already? His poor mother. From when he was little, she would have warned him to wrap up against the cold, to eat his greens otherwise he won’t grow strong. She would have instilled in him the term “stranger danger”, trained him to cross roads sensibly and before the young Israeli set off on this wonderful adventure in America, she would have kissed him goodbye and told him to take care of himself.

Except his world was very different to the one she grew up in. Her son was raised in the culture of “likes”, reporting his every experience on social media rather than living in the moment.

It seems now, next to “don’t go off with a stranger” or “look both ways before you cross the road”, we now have to tell our kids: “Don’t lean over backwards when you’re standing in a canyon because no amount of Instagram likes is worth breaking your mother’s heart.” It’s maddening. He’s not the first and I doubt he will be the last.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: selfies are a pox on us all and the sooner our culture tires of this soulless, narcissistic practice, the better. I want to go back to the halcyon days when picture-taking was more natural – when we are laughing so hard that our faces looked like a scrunched-up paper bag or perhaps are in the midst of a deep and meaningful chat at a Christmas party about a friend’s divorce and have completely forgotten we are wearing an orange paper party hat.

Selfies don’t capture a moment – they kill it. I know, because I used to be pretty obsessed with them myself.

A few years ago, I was in the Vatican, gazing up at the Sistine Chapel. My boyfriend at the time sensed my angst at the “no photo” signs we had seen. He looked at me, disappointed, and said, “You’re thinking of how you can take a selfie, aren’t you?” Yes, I was. And all I took away from seeing one of the Wonders of the World, was how relieved I was that I’d snuck one in.

The desire to document the moment wrecked my chance of treasuring it. My memory of that day isn’t of seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel; it is of my boyfriend seething, exasperated with me, and me eyeing the security guard, heart-in-mouth, taking a bloody picture and not being able to rest until I’d posted it. I might as well have visited McDonald’s for all the joy I got out of it. It becomes a compulsion to do something at the expense of everything else: your enjoyment, the happiness of your partner, and, in the most tragic cases, your own life.

The same boyfriend threatened to leave me at Glastonbury one year when the Dalai Lama surprised the crowd by joining Patti Smith on stage. Instead of looking at the stage, I scrambled around looking for my phone which I’d tucked into my bra and took pictures of the Dalai Lama as my soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend stood there in anger. I managed to ruin his moment as well as my own, but I also managed to record Patti Smith yelling at the crowd to “put your phones down and live in the f**king moment” which I promptly posted on Facebook, while my boyfriend’s love for me drained from him forever.

The best photos of us are taken by other people. They are not the ones from the same flattering angle, with the same “photo face” taken by ourselves.

One of the sweetest, funniest sights I have ever seen is my dad sliding down a wide slide at Center Parcs in a star shape, spinning as he went down, just after the lifeguard told him spinning is not allowed. He is a small man who looks like wholemeal Willy Nelson. I often play the vision back in my mind and have a little chuckle. No one took a picture of it. It’s my own little piece of joy that I share with people when I feel like it.

I’ve stopped taking my phone out when I’m with my children too. As long as they are with me, there are no emergencies that cannot wait and frankly, I hope they never have the time to sit and look at the thousands of photos I’ve taken of them; they should always be too busy having adventures. I hope one day they will be staring up at the Sistine Chapel holding on to nothing except perhaps the hand of their dear old mum – who would very much like to see it again.


Phone Devil

Addiction risks for kids are high…

A Dark Consensus About Screens And Kids Begins To Emerge In Silicon Valley

Nellie Bowles, 26 Oct 2018, nytimes.com

The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them.

A wariness that has been slowly brewing is turning into a regionwide consensus: The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high. The debate in Silicon Valley now is about how much exposure to phones is O.K.

“Doing no screen time is almost easier than doing a little,” said Kristin Stecher, a former social computing researcher married to a Facebook engineer. “If my kids do get it at all, they just want it more.”

Ms. Stecher, 37, and her husband, Rushabh Doshi, researched screen time and came to a simple conclusion: they wanted almost none of it in their house. Their daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride (the four-hour drive to Tahoe counts) or during a plane trip.

Some of the people who built video programs are now horrified by how many places a child can now watch a video. Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: “Hashtag ‘products we didn’t buy.’”

Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”

Ms. Chavarria did not let her children have cellphones until high school, and even now bans phone use in the car and severely limits it at home. She said she lives by the mantra that the last child in the class to get a phone wins. Her daughter did not get a phone until she started ninth grade.

“Other parents are like, ‘Aren’t you worried you don’t know where your kids are when you can’t find them?’” Ms. Chavarria said. “And I’m like, ‘No, I do not need to know where my kids are every second of the day.’”

For longtime tech leaders, watching how the tools they built affect their children has felt like a reckoning on their life and work.

Among those is Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company. He is also the founder of GeekDad.com. “On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine,” Mr. Anderson said of screens.

Technologists building these products and writers observing the tech revolution were naïve, he said. “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”

He has five children and 12 tech rules. They include: no phones until the summer before high school, no screens in bedrooms, network-level content blocking, no social media until age 13, no iPads at all and screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi that he controls from his phone. Bad behavior? The child goes offline for 24 hours.

“I didn’t know what we were doing to their brains until I started to observe the symptoms and the consequences. This is scar tissue talking. We’ve made every mistake in the book, and I think we got it wrong with some of my kids. We glimpsed into the chasm of addiction, and there were some lost years, which we feel bad about,” Mr. Anderson said.

His children attended private elementary school, where he saw the administration introduce iPads and smart whiteboards, only to “descend into chaos and then pull back from it all.”

This idea that Silicon Valley parents are wary about tech is not new. The godfathers of tech expressed these concerns years ago, and concern has been loudest from the top.

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks. Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads.

But in the last year, a fleet of high-profile Silicon Valley defectors have been sounding alarms in increasingly dire terms about what these gadgets do to the human brain. Suddenly rank-and-file Silicon Valley workers are obsessed. No-tech homes are cropping up across the region. Nannies are being asked to sign no-phone contracts.

Those who have exposed their children to screens try to talk them out of addiction by explaining how the tech works. John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology. “I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.’”


Progress ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Black And White TVs Are A Lo-Fi Rebuke To A World Gone Wrong

Stuart Jeffries, 09 Nov 2018, theguardian.com

The UK has 7,000 households that shun colour television. They may be on to something.

A report by TV Licensing this week shows that, more than half a century after colour broadcasts began, over 7,000 people still watch television in black and white.

Why do some still opt for black and white? They can’t all be cheapskates who would rather pay just £49 a year for a black and white licence compared with almost £145.50 for a colour one. Black and white TV is like black and white photography and cinema: for some it’s aesthetically superior, more potently expressive. If you colourised a Mapplethorpe, a Weegee, a Fay Godwin, that glisteningly beautiful black and white of Alexander Mackendrick’s film Sweet Smell of Success, or indeed most of the great Hollywood genre called film noir, you should be arrested for cultural vandalism if not murder, since, in a sense, you would be sucking the life out of them.

One champion of black and white, TV historian Jeffrey Borinsky, asked rhetorically yesterday: “Who wants all this new-fangled 4K ultra HD, satellite dishes or a screen that’s bigger than your room when you can have glorious black and white TV?” Viewed thus, black and white TV is like craft beer, lo-fi reproof to a world gone wrong.

It’s a good point. Technological “progress” often just gives us more of what we don’t want. Endless choice is misery-making rather than liberating. No wonder the 7,000 rebel against colour TV’s gimcrack lunacy of red buttons; endless channels screening nothing worth watching; the binge-based death-in-life of modern viewing, and the whole lie that having access all the time to everything will make us happy rather than confused and sad.


Notifications

Social media never seems to end…

The End Of Endings

Amanda Hess, 15 Nov 2018, nytimes.com

The age of the sequel is over. Now it’s the age of the sequel to the sequel. Also the prequel, the reboot, the reunion, the revival, the remake, the spinoff and the stand-alone franchise-adjacent film. Canceled television shows are reinstated. Killed-off characters are resuscitated. Movies do not begin and end so much as they loiter onscreen. And social media is built for infinite scrolling. Nothing ends anymore, and it’s driving me insane.

Meanwhile, on smaller screens, social media has given rise to self-perpetuating content machines.

Didn’t endings used to mean something? They imbued everything that came before them with significance, and then they gave us the space to reflect on it all. More than that: They made us feel alive. The story ended, but we did not. This had been true at least since the novel supplanted the oral tradition. In his essay “The Storyteller,” Walter Benjamin wrote that the novelist “invites the reader to a divinatory realization of the meaning of life by writing ‘Finis.’” He continued, “What draws the reader to the novel is the hope of warming his shivering life with a death he reads about.” We needed stories to end so we could make sense of them. We needed characters to die so we could make sense of ourselves.

At the same time, social media is pushing the limits of limitlessness. What Instagram has branded “Stories” is an endless feed of images, one-liners and special effects that carries no pretense of progression. All it does is continue.

Phones are NOT God…

The phone network 3 had an advert recently that decried the awesomeness of mobile phones by showing how great they would have been in historical situations such as the sinking of the Titanic.

However, the reality of the situation is perhaps somewhat different, as illustrated by the artist Pierre Brignaud…

Phones Titanic

Also, the advert by 3 has a very clever (and sacrilegious?) bit right towards the end, where we very briefly see the phrase ‘#PhonesAreGod’ just before it quickly changes to ‘#PhonesAreGood’. Not sure what to make of it, not sure what they are trying say, but see if you can spot it anyway.

Phones Are God


We really are addicted to our phones…

And finally, as an added bonus, here is the brilliant British comedian Russell Howard explaining in under 6 minutes some of the ridiculous behaviours technology induces in us all (WARNING – contain adult humour, you have been warned)…

HUMOUR IS THE MAIN MEASURE OF SANITY

America Then And Now.png

Things are looking bad. Real bad. The news continues to throw up scary story after scary story, with far too many to keep track of. And it seems that I am not the only one who holds such grandstanding reservations on the state of us humans. On a recent BBC TV show the British playwright Lucy Prebble commented that:

We are living in sort of the most upsetting, gruelling, exhausting, time to be alive. You just wake up every day and see the news and you just want to cry. – Lucy Prebble

Satirist Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye magazine, recently made the following quip on the same BBC TV show about the UK government and all things Brexit related:

The fundamental problem that the British cabinet have, as far as the rest of the country is concerned, is that no one agrees with anyone about anything. There’s no majority for any course of action from any group of people anywhere in Britain. Which is quite a problem. – Ian Hislop

Other anxieties also abound. Referring to the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the war to end all wars, New York Times journalist David Brooks implied that humanity has not progressed as far as we should have in the 100 years since the end of that devastating conflict:

Today we face no horrors equal to the Great War, but there is the same loss of faith in progress, the reality of endless political trench warfare, the paranoid melodrama, the spectre that we are all being dehumanized amid the fight. – David Brooks

Referring to Donald Trump (the Orange Anxiety) and the state of democracy in America after the recent mid-term elections, another New York Times journalist, Paul Krugman, presents us with this dire warning:

What all of this means is that what’s going on in America right now isn’t politics as usual. It’s much more existential than that. You have to be truly delusional to see the Republicans’ response to their party’s mid-term setback as anything but an attempted power grab by a would-be authoritarian movement, which rejects any opposition or even criticism as illegitimate. Our democracy is still very much in danger. – Paul Krugman

Sticking with the New York Times, Charles M Blow wonders if, what with everything going on, it is okay for us to be oh so weary:

Do we have a right to weariness in an era of animus? More precisely, can we afford it, or is exhaustion a luxury reserved for those whose wealth, privilege and status insulate them from the losses the rest of us could suffer?…People are trying to figure out the proper posture to take in a world riven by deceit and corruption, a world in which the leadership of the country represents an assault on decency. – Charles M Blow

And just to add the sourest cherry to the top of this really depressing cake, Guardian journalist George Monbiot tops all of these pessimistic views by declaring that the Earth itself is in a “planetary death spiral” because of all those darned oligarchs:

The oligarchic control of wealth, politics, media and public discourse explains the comprehensive institutional failure now pushing us towards disaster. Think of Donald Trump and his cabinet of multi-millionaires; the influence of the Koch brothers in funding right-wing organisations; the Murdoch empire and its massive contribution to climate science denial; or the oil and motor companies whose lobbying prevents a faster shift to new technologies. – George Monbiot

I honestly do not think any of these comments are an exaggeration of where we actually stand. If proof were needed to back up the depressing views presented above, then please consider the following story which left me jaw-droppingly dumb founded. Whilst this story is not a global headline grabber such as climate change or Brexit or Jamal Khashoggi, it is nonetheless a depressing indication of where we are at the moment, individually and collectively.

A Neo-Nazi couple who named their child after Adolf Hitler are facing jail after being found guilty of belonging to a banned terrorist organisation. Adam Thomas, 22, and his girlfriend, Claudia Patatas, 38, were convicted of being members of the far-right group National Action. NA was outlawed in Britain in 2016 after members celebrated Labour MP Jo Cox’s murder and called for a subsequent “White Jihad.” Other members have said Muslims are an “infection on western civilisation” as well as talking online about a “race war” and a “holy war” against black people, Jews, Asians, and homosexuals.

Birmingham Crown Court heard the pair gave their baby the middle name “Adolf” which self-confessed racist Thomas told jurors was done in “admiration” for the leader of Nazi Germany. The pair possessed a “family album” which included photos of Thomas dressed in white Ku Klux Klan robes cradling his new-born son. The couple even had racist Christmas cards, including one with a picture of KKK members bearing the message “May All Your Christmases Be White.”

The couple also kept an axe and a machete at home, and authorities found a crossbow near the new-born’s crib. They also had several items best described as Nazi memorabilia, such as a mug with an SS emblem and a cookie cutter shaped like a swastika. I assume we won’t be seeing that on the Great British Bake Off any time soon.

Patatas, who has a black sun SS symbol tattooed on her back, also revealed she once celebrated Hitler’s birthday by eating a cake with a “Fuhrer face” decorated on it. She said she found it difficult to cut off a slice because she admired him so much, saying “I did struggle to slice his face. Adolf is life.” In another message she said “All Jews must be put to death.”

I could have so easily chosen a dozen or so other stories to illustrate our age of craziness. Stories such as the school in Wisconsin in America which is being investigated after a photo emerged showing dozens of students performing Nazi salutes, further blurring the line between real Nazism and “ironic” Nazism (yes, that is a thing). The image surfaced on Twitter after it was shared by an account named “Welcome To Baraboo.” The post, which has since been deleted, was captioned “We even got the black kid to throw it up.” It shows more than 50 young men in suits smiling and laughing on the steps of the county courthouse in Baraboo, a town of around 10,000 people. Most of them are lifting their right arms above their head, apparently to mimic the ‘Sig Heil’ greeting popularised in Hitler’s Germany.

Or the story of a young woman in El Salvador who fell pregnant after being repeatedly raped from the age of 11 by her stepfather, and who could face up to two decades in jail for allegedly attempting to abort his child. Two decades! Imelda Cortez became pregnant at the age of 18 and denies trying to abort the baby, which is a crime under any circumstances in El Salvador. She was taken to a hospital after giving birth and despite the child being born healthy, doctors claimed she had tried to intentionally induce an abortion. Ms Cortez’s daughter is now nearly two-years-old.

Add to this the fact that fighting has escalated in Israel, with casualties on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. This recent escalation is sparking fears of an all-out conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. The political ramifications of this recent fighting are so bad that it may actually bring down the current coalition government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. Likewise the Syrian situation shows no signs of improving whatsoever. Yemen, the poorest country on earth, is still being mercilessly bombarded by Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries on earth.

And over in California the state is experiencing its deadliest wildfires ever, with over 75 people killed (a death toll that is predicted to rise dramatically as over 1,200 people are still missing). The blackened skies make northern California the most polluted part of the globe right now in terms of air quality, even more so than the most polluted city in the world, Delhi in India. In an act of cruel irony, a town called Paradise was totally burnt to the ground. So severe and swift were the leaping wildfires that residents only had minutes to evacuate, with clips of fleeing residents resembling something more akin to hell than paradise. Some victims were found burned alive in their cars whilst trying to escape. And Trump still seems to think it is all due to forest mismanagement, even though he himself cut funding for fire management.

Also, the mid-term elections in America have shown just how divisive American society and culture is. A point I found rather interesting is just how little Trump now talks about the caravan invasion from South America, almost making it seem like the subject was used to generate unwarranted fear among his electoral base. I guess we’ll never know.

As you can see we are surrounded by confusion and anger on all sides, some real and much feigned. It seems the world is literally going insane, one headline at a time. How do you maintain your sanity in such an environment? The great American gonzo writer Hunter S Thompson, one of the most famous journalists of the last fifty years and himself no stranger to the limits of reality due to all the psychedelic drugs he took, once famously said that:

A sense of humour is the main measure of sanity. – Hunter S Thompson

Which is why I choose to keep myself sane by listening more and more to stand-up comedians. In these divisive and troubled times, we need comedy. We need to laugh, not only at ourselves but also at each other. We need to break down these walls that keep getting higher and higher, thicker and thicker, stronger and stronger. And nothing dents such walls of pretension as a well-delivered punchline, a fact noted recently by British comedian Luisa Omielan:

Any time there’s a trying time, comedy goes through the roof. People want to go somewhere to laugh, to forget about the fact that they’re broke, or they can’t live anywhere, that they’ve got somebody like Donald Trump. – Luisa Omielan, Nov 2018

Or as the American comedian Baratunde Thurston puts it even more succinctly:

Comedy helps us make sense of the world. – Baratunde Thurston

Is it difficult to provide humour to the masses in these troubled times? Perhaps. Case in point involves the American comedian Reginald D Hunter. One a recent episode of the BBC TV show Have I Got News For You, Hunter made a political joke that got zero laughs, and I do mean zero. Silence. Queue the rolling tumbleweed. He quickly ended the silence by saying “I wish that had been funnier, but sometimes the truth is just…humourless.” Irony being what it is, this follow up comment got a huge barrel of laughs, a lot more than the initial joke. Such are the nuances of comedy.

Despite this sense of foreboding morbidity, I still think we need humour in all its flavours more than ever. In that endeavour please find below a collection of quotes, some about humour itself, and others that are just funny. As always, enjoy!


At any given time you will find a Muslim somewhere on the planet apologising for some terrorism that they have nothing to do with. We don’t do that to white people. If one white person did something that we didn’t like we wouldn’t hold all other white people responsible. We wouldn’t expect other white people to apologise. We’d never do that…because, er, white people don’t say sorry for shit. So that’s a ridiculous idea. It would totally, totally backfire. – Aamer Rahman

Diversity was a big winner on Tuesday at the mid-term elections. More women, more minorities, more gay people. And just to screw with Trump they plan on arriving in DC in a caravan. Also two Muslim women are now in Congress, it’ll be great for the world to see that and hear that. We also have two Native Americans, Deb Haaland from New Mexico and my favourite, Sharice Davids from Kansas, a lesbian mixed martial arts fighter. Let’s see Trump call her Pocahontas! – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

Don’t take unsolicited pictures of women. Upskirting?! If you’re that desperate to take a picture of a twat then just take a selfie. – Russell Howard

I am involved in the Super Muslim Comedy Tour because I want to break down negative barriers and narratives surrounding Muslims in the USA. The tour is about going into public places and subverting the stereotypes by making people laugh. Art and entertainment can combat ideologies of racism and bigotry. Not all black men only become Muslim in prison, something we are constantly told. – Musa Sulaiman, aka Moses the Comic

I have to be honest though, in the last 10 years or so I think the right-wing in America have been whupping our butts with this. They’ll say something really nonsensical and we’re stunned, and in the state of being stunned, legislation and stuff gets passed. You’ll be in a courtroom with one of them and your lawyer will say “We need to handle something about voting rights, and I think we need to look at these districts.” And the other side will say “Well, I love my mom, apple pie, and yabba-dabba-do.” And you’ll go “What the fuck?!” And then while you’re going “What the fuck?!” somebody bangs a fist and goes “Case dismissed. Next!” – Reginald D Hunter, Nov 2018

I realise the extent to which things are messed up. Really, as a comedian, all I’m trying to do is give people a moment of relief before they go back to their usual grind. – Aamer Rahman

I was talking before about how there’s people out there who don’t like us Muslims, and they say we don’t integrate, and we’re trying to take over, and that we should go back to Muslamistan. Here’s the thing. I’ve studied British history, I’ve read four Wikipedia pages. I’m a comedian, my job is to observe the world. Now as far as I can tell, going to another country, not learning their language, sticking to your own religion, forcing your customs on others, and making no effort to integrate, it’s actually the most British thing you can do! – Tez Ilyas

I went to this Catholic church and I noticed it was a bit cold in there because they don’t have central heating in there like we do in mosques. I’m not showing off, I’m just saying, you know. We haven’t got as much money as they have, but we don’t spend it on stupid things like ruby slippers…and all that compensation. – Imran Yusuf

I’d like to make a quick announcement at the beginning of this show, and that is to say that I will be making jokes about terrorism. I think as a Muslim it’s important that I say that killing innocent people completely contradicts the teachings of the Qur’an. I think we can all agree that this idea that a tiny handful of extremists can create some crackpot ideology based on the myth of their own supremacy, and then use that to justify violence and terror against innocent people, is just disgusting. But anyway…enough about Israel! Woah! [Audience applauds] I’m glad you like that joke, because if you don’t like that joke, it is an awkward one hour for everyone. – Aamer Rahman

If Trump is afraid of foreigners and their children then he must lose his shit whenever he sees his wife and kid. – Russell Howard

If you look at the dictator playbook there is a great line attributed to Stalin which is “The death of one person is a tragedy and the death of a million is a statistic.” One lie will haunt Bill Clinton into his grave but when you have a million Trump lies, you can’t remember a single one of them! – Bret Stephens

It’s hard to peg me. In fact, even people from my background don’t understand what’s going on. Since I pick on everyone, no one knows who I am. I’m like a UFO. I’m a girl, born in France, of Tunisian parents, dressed like a sub-Saharan woman who lives her life and wears a turban. I make my own choices. I don’t try to fit any mould; I don’t try to please. – Samia Orosemane

Let’s talk about the rampant voter fraud that allowed Democrats to literally steal the election. Some have claimed that suburban women revolted against the Republican party, but doesn’t it feel more true that all Hispanics voted twice? You can’t dismiss that idea simply because it isn’t true and sounds insane. In fact, let’s add that to our list of “feel facts” which aren’t technically facts, but they just feel true. Like, Latinos can have a baby every three months. Santa is Jesus’ dad. If the earth is so warm then why are my feet cold? Blackface is a compliment. If you have less than five guns, you’re gay. – Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, 17 Nov 2018, from the satirical TV show Saturday Night Live

My mother used to tell me ‘I’d prefer an Arab who’s a drunk to a black man who prays’. It’s a visceral racism that is prevalent in the North African community, as elsewhere. Everyone is afraid of the other. Tackling this on stage as a comedian is a way to make people think about it…I try to be as useful as possible. If I can create bridges where there are walls, I’m very happy. I’ll try anyway. If it works, great, if not, I’ll turn to other people. – Samia Orosemane

My name is Nabil Abdul Rashid and in case you are wondering what that means, it means my phone calls are monitored. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

Okay, look, I know how this works. I come out here on stage and I say some humanizing stuff about my community and we all feel good about ourselves, right? That’s the way it works. For 13 years I’ve been coming out on stage and going “Hello everybody! I’m one of the good ones!” And some of you laugh, you release a bit of tension out and you go “Oh my God! Yes he is. We feel really safe!” Well, some of you evidently do that. The rest of you are going “I don’t trust him. It could be an alibi. I don’t know.” – Imran Yusuf

People come up to me and ask me if I consider myself to be British first or Muslim first. I had no idea the two things were racing. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

People don’t change their politics. Over the years hundreds of people have come up to me and said “I saw your documentary Religulous and now I’m an atheist.” Nobody ever comes up to me and says “I watch your politics show Real Time every week and now I’m a liberal.” They’ll flip on God but not Trump. That cult is serious. – Bill Maher, 16 Nov 2018

The mid-term elections was kind of a split decision. The Democrats won the house, Russia kept the Senate. And we found out that the divide in this country is bigger than ever. The red rural parts came out overwhelmingly for Trump, the blue urban parts came out against him. We are really devolving into two countries: the tobacco chewers, and the people who vape. That’s America! – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

This stuff is so awful, it’s hard to look away. Trump is like a magician who distracts from the card up his sleeve by actually sawing a woman in half. – Samantha Bee

Trump lives in this opposite world. He puts criminals in charge of the Justice Department, facts are lies, he’s awake when he should be asleep, he talks out of his ass but shit comes out of his mouth. – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

Trump says he doesn’t know Matthew Whitaker, the guy who just replaced Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. We know Matthew Whitaker’s been to the Oval Office many times. We have a tape of Trump just from October saying “Whitaker’s a great guy. I know Matthew Whitaker.” Sometimes I think Donald Trump is really a set of twins. There’s Donald Trump and Ronald Trump, and they’re masquerading as the same person but sometimes they just can’t get their story straight. And Republicans, they don’t care anymore. There’s no such thing anymore as “how it looks.” In this election they elected two indicted criminals and a dead pimp. I’m not making that up. That should be the punchline: ba-ba-ba, dead pimp! But no, that’s the true part. – Bill Maher, 09 Nov 2018

We are living in a time where England is becoming more and more right wing, and it’s harder for certain people to live there. If your name is Bob, you’re fine. Bobdeep, not so much. – Nabil Abdul Rashid

We thought Russia was going to become like us, America, but we became like Russia. – Bill Maher, 16 Nov 2018

DID THEY BURY JAMAL WITH HIS BODY FACING MECCA?

I am always interested in coming across an alternative perspective, a point of view different from the one I currently hold, an opinion that causes me to think differently. And with the world wide web at our fingertips it is very easy to come by a multitude of opinions. These range from factual, well researched articles written in established publications, to weird and wonderful conspiracy theories in various forums and chat rooms. Nowadays, the blurred line between these two worlds is fast dissipating, making it very difficult to know the truth, if it is indeed out there.

All this makes analysing the news that much harder. Take the biggest news story around the world at the moment, the mid-term elections in The Greatest Nation On Earth. Just how important are they? Are these the most important elections ever, or are they the most important until the next elections in 2020? Are they part of the slow moving coup that satirist Bill Maher has been opining about for several months now? Are they a binary fight for the soul of America? Is America, or indeed the idea of America, dead or slowly dying? Am I getting carried away with all these overthought questions? Historical hindsight will allow for a better answer but in the meantime there are many who are touting these elections to be of the utmost significance, people like New York Times journalist Paul Krugman, who a few days prior to the elections wrote that:

Whatever happens in the midterms, the aftermath will be ugly. But the elections are nonetheless a fork in the road. If we take one path, it will offer at least a chance for political redemption, for recovering America’s democratic values. If we take the other, we’ll be on the road to autocracy, with no obvious way to get off…But with the crucial moment here, everyone should bear in mind what’s at stake. It’s not just tax cuts or health coverage, and anyone who votes based simply on those issues is missing the bigger story. For the survival of American democracy is on the ballot. – Paul Krugman

Dramatic stuff indeed. However the mid-terms are not the only big news story currently out there. The death of the self-exiled Saudi reporter, US resident, and contributing columnist to The Washington Post, Jamal Khashoggi, is still making headlines over a month since his tragic demise at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The Turkish authorities are drip-feeding gruesome details week-by-week, as though this was some sort of syndicated TV crime drama. We started with Khashoggi being alive but missing, then he was dismembered whilst still alive with a bonesaw, then he was strangled to death and then dismembered with a bonesaw, and the latest Turkish drip-feed delight mentions the use of acid to try and rid the world of the horrifying evidence. I guess we should all tune in same time next week for more gory details.

Saudi Flag Blood

One of the many interesting things about this murder, other than why there is so much focus on the death of one man and not on the death of thousands in Yemen who are also being killed by the Saudis, is why this particular news story is still in the public eye. This gruesome attention grabbing feat is even more remarkable given the chaotic news cycle that digitally swirls all around us. In a recent interview the great American novelist Don Delillo commented on this very phenomenon. The 81 year old Delillo, who has spent more than half a century at the cutting edge of US culture dissecting America’s dreams and nightmares, spoke of his discombobulation when it comes to the news, specifically news about Trump:

I’m very reluctant to talk about Trump, simply because everybody else is. We’re deluged with information about Trump on every level – as a man, as a politician. But what’s significant to me is that all of his enormous mistakes and misstatements disappear within 24 hours. The national memory lasts 48 hours, at best. And there’s always something else coming at us down the pipeline. You can’t separate it all out. You get lost in the deluge…Right now, I’m not sure the situation is recoverable. – Don Delillo

The Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik has also offered her fresh perspective on the Khashoggi case, specifically around why we are still so interested in it and why this one death generates more empathy than the death of thousands in Yemen:

I failed to call it. The day after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, I told editors that the story, unfortunately, would not hold attention for more than two or three days, so jaded was I with how Saudi’s brutality had become normalised. It is now more than a month since Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, never to be seen again, but his killing has scarcely been out of the headlines since. It has focused attention on Saudi Arabia in ways that activists, journalists, human rights organisers and politicians have desperately tried but failed to do for years.

There was something about this event, something that landed in a way that no one could have anticipated. There was an element of shocking betrayal; to be murdered in one’s own consulate, a place of refuge in a foreign land, was akin to being murdered in a church. To be lured, then stung. It was a violation of amnesty that made it more sickening than if he had been liquidated randomly on the streets of Istanbul. It was reminiscent of Saddam Hussein’s amnesty to his two sons-in-law who had fled the country, only to be assassinated the moment they returned.

On the back of his murder, other atrocities committed by the Saudi regime have come into clearer focus. Arms deals with the kingdom are under greater scrutiny, with Germany halting future sales. The war in Yemen, which Saudi critics have been trying to call attention to for years, is suddenly higher up the agenda. Reporting from the ground has amplified the voices of doctors tending to starving children, incensed at how Khashoggi’s murder received so much of the airtime that they would be grateful for scraps of. “We’re surprised the Khashoggi case is getting so much attention while millions of Yemeni children are suffering,” a doctor told the New York Times. “Nobody gives a damn about them.”

Jamal Khashoggi was the equivalent of the little girl in the red coat in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The film was shot entirely in black and white, but a single girl was in colour, taken away from home with her family, playing in the mud in a concentration camp, and then piled up lifeless with other bodies on a cart. The technique identified the single story among millions, sharpening and humanising it to highlight what psychologists call “collapse of compassion”, our natural tendency to turn away from mass suffering.

 – Nesrine Malik, 05 Nov 2018, theguardian.com, from the article Why We Still Can’t Stop Talking About Jamal Khashoggi

Aside from the above article from Malik, there have been many other noteworthy pieces written about Jamal Khashoggi. One that really grabbed my attention, perhaps for all the wrong reasons, was an article by Robert Fisk, a non-Muslim who wrote about the murder from a very specific Islamic perspective:

This disgusting, dangerous, frightening, dirty murder – and don’t tell me a man of 60 who dies in a “fistfight” with 15 men isn’t murder – shows not just the Saudi government up for what it is, but it shows us up for what we are, too.

Naturally, we all hope Jamal was not dismembered…we can all hope that Jamal was given a solemn and dignified Muslim burial with all the correct prayers said for his soul and his body buried – secretly, of course – shrouded and on its right side and in the direction of Mecca, the Holy city of which Mohammed bin Salman’s father, the King, is officially the Protector.

This will not have been easy to accomplish if Jamal was indeed chopped up by our favourite forensic scientist and taken to the consul’s home or a forest – the Turkish version – for a secret burial. But then again, maybe, on the way to the forest – if it was a forest – the burial party thought that, given the piety of their country, let alone their faith, he really should be given a Muslim funeral. By that stage, however, they would have realised that they might have committed a “grave and terrible mistake”. Under Islamic law, a mutilated body must be sewn up before being placed in a shroud. Did they sew Jamal up? And put him in a shroud?

 – Robert Fisk, 25 Oct 2018, independent.co.uk, from the article Jamal Khashoggi: Did They Bury Him With His Body Facing Mecca?

I positively winced when I read this blistering verbal tirade against the Saudi perpetrators. How can anyone, especially a Muslim, read these dark words from Robert Fisk and not at the very least be filled with anger and shame?

MAGA Fuel

The other big news story making the rounds involves another horrific act. Avid Trump supporter Robert Bowers shot and killed 11 Jewish worshippers at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The incident, which took place on October 27th, is considered to be the worst anti-Semitic attack in recent US history. A week after the event, the Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wrote an article in which he pledged to combat the growing tide of anti-Semitism that seems to be sweeping around the world:

The wicked terrorist attack targeted innocent Jewish Americans, but it felt like an attack on us all – on our way of life and on the freedoms we hold dear. The fight against antisemitism is not only about protecting the Jewish community; it’s a fight on behalf of everyone. For antisemitism is a threat to our values, to the cohesiveness of our communities and to our whole society.

Sadly, the rise in antisemitism and the far right can’t be treated simply as a passing trend. The Community Security Trust has reported that anti-Semitic incidents across the UK are at a record high, with the number of cases recorded in London alone rising by nearly 200% since 2011.

We know from our history that we ignore these incidents at our peril, and where antisemitism, left to fester, can lead. And we know from our history that an increase in antisemitism and right-wing extremism usually comes with a rise in other forms of hate crime and division – coinciding with a backdrop of economic hardship, nationalist populism and political uncertainty.

Worryingly, all the warning signs are here again, so it is vital that we take action now.

There’s not going to be a quick fix to this problem: it’s one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. But I’m still optimistic that if we treat it with the seriousness it deserves, we can clamp down on antisemitism, stop the march of far right and nationalist populism and make a real difference in forging stronger communities – showing that hope, unity and love can always trump fear, division and hatred.

 – Sadiq Khan, 05 Nov 2018, theguardian.com, from the article Antisemitism Endangers Us All. We Can’t Afford To Be Complacent

Perhaps the best analysis of this incident comes from the New York Times journalist Bari Weiss, a proud Jewish native of Pittsburgh who has some very strong and personal ties to the synagogue (she had her Bat Mitzvah there). Because of these close ties the incident really did bring home the terror, something Weiss wrote about brilliantly a few days ago. Part of her article focused on how such a horrifying incident can bring out the best in many of us, even those not directly affected:

If you are lucky, when a terrorist comes to your town, you will bear witness to some of this country’s better angels. Better angels like the father who walked down the block outside of Tree of Life as he calmly explained to his young son: “They’re trying to tell people that they are coming to invade our country. And it’s just not true.”

Better angels like Wasi Mohamed, the young executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, who stood up and said if what you need is “people outside your next service protecting you, let us know. We’ll be there.” He said that in making this offer he was only repaying a favor: “That was the same offer made to me by this community after this election happened that was so negative and the spike in hate crimes against Muslims.”

But you will also wonder quietly to yourself if these better angels will be enough to stop the threats against communities like yours from multiplying. What happened in my neighborhood might seem like a nightmare or an illness — something to be endured until, in time, it passes. That’s how it has seemed to me. But to those who have spent their lives in places like Karachi or Aleppo, the things Pittsburgh Jews take for granted — our freedom from violence and fear — are nothing more than pipe dreams. When your hometown in Western Pennsylvania becomes the scene of mass murder, you know that the distance separating their reality from ours can be made tissue thin.

 – Bari Weiss, 02 Nov 2018, nytimes.com, from the article When A Terrorist Comes To Your Hometown

Despite the tragedy Weiss still managed to praise others which to me is a true act of genuine and sincere kindness on her part. Weiss also appeared on the late night talk show Real Time With Bill Maher. A clearly emotional yet hopeful Weiss pointed out that antisemitism is rooted in the language of conspiracy theories, a language that President Trump has been fluent in for quite some time. His words clearly matter. The entire nine minute interview is worth watching in full and selected quotes presented below. Antisemitism is discussed in nuanced terms that really shed light on what a heinous act it truly is. The subject of Israel is also discussed in terms I have never really considered before:

What’s important to remember is that antisemitism is not just a prejudice, it’s a conspiracy theory. It says that there is a secret hand controlling the world and that secret hand is called the “Jew.” So even if Trump himself is not an anti-Semite, and I don’t believe that he is an anti-Semite, he is inculcating an atmosphere of conspiracy minded thinking. So when he says things like “enemies of the people”, “globalists”, and we can go on and on, it’s been happening every day for two years, in the mind of people like Richard Spencer and David Duke they hear “Jew, Jew, Jew.” And it’s not a surprise that people like that were drawn to Trump’s banner. Now you have it on the left too, where “Israel” comes to replace “Jew” as the sort of diabolical controller of all the world’s ills, but in this case obviously this person [Robert Bowers] was coming from the political right.

The thing that is interesting about it is that typical bigotry, it’s that the subject of your bigotry is subhuman. With Jews they are both inhuman and anti-human at once. They’re both physically weak and aggressive. They are both the socialists and the arch capitalists. That is what is so hard about antisemitism.

People don’t realize that Jews are 2% of the population in this country but they make up half of all hate crimes, according to the FBI.

The problematic thing happening in this moment is that people like Steve Bannon like Israel for the wrong reasons…Evangelical Christians do too, because when the world ends the Jews convert to Christianity or they die, your choice…One thing that I think was made stark this week is that there are many Jews, including Jews that I know, who have liked many of Trumps policies regarding Israel and the Middle East. They love the fact that the American embassy was moved to Jerusalem, a move that I supported. They like the scuttling of the Iran deal. But I hope this week that American Jews have woken up to the price of that bargain. They have traded policies that they like for the values that have sustained the Jewish people, and frankly this country for forever: welcoming the stranger, dignity for all human beings, equality under the law, respect for dissent, love of truth. These are the things that we are losing under this president, and no policy is worth that price.

 – Bari Weiss, 02 Oct 2018, from an interview on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher