TLDR is an internet acronym that stands for “too long; didn’t read”. So here I am hoping this blog post does not fall into that category. Thus we move quickly to another regular digest of interesting articles I have recently read online, even though some of them may not be so recent themselves.

We begin with a brilliant article from Haroon Moghul about Islam, love, and the Taj Mahal. The economist Thomas Friedman follows with a memo to Trump on Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid then speaks rather positively about death. Then we have Sunny Hundal writing about how the far right will eventually turn on the white people who currently support them. Will Oremus then explains how humans are to blame more than bots when it comes to spreading lies online. Sticking with this theme, we end with the controversial writer Kenan Malik and his brief history of fake news, starting with 17th century coffee houses.

Whilst I have selected my favourite quotes from these articles they are, as always, worth reading in full. Enjoy!

Islam Was A Religion Of Love, And The Taj Mahal Proves It

Haroon Moghul, 12 Feb 2016,

I propose we see the Taj Mahal as a vision of what Islam used to be, and what Islam could be, a building dedicated to love, and to love across boundaries that seem more like vast chasms today. Shah Jahan was a Sunni ruler from a Sunni dynasty. His beloved wife, however, was Shiite. Far from being doomed to fight, they fell in love. They married. They produced the next emperor. And they are now buried peacefully beside one another.

It might strike you as surprising that one of the most famous buildings in the Muslim tradition is a monument to love. What’s the first word you think of when you hear “Islam”? Go ahead, be honest. Probably, you didn’t think of “love.” It might be the last thing on your mind. Probably, the first words that you reflexively associate with Islam are the opposite. But there was a time, a very long time, when love, for friends, for intimates, and for God, was the central theme of the Muslim faith, and in the way some Muslims today say “Islam is a religion of peace,” they’d have said “Islam is a religion of love.”

The Taj Mahal is of course many things to many people. For my beloved wife, it’s an unfair marker to hold a husband to. (I swear I would if I could.) It should also be a monument to Sunni and Shiite harmony, a reminder of a time when the core of the Muslim faith was love: Love of a person for himself, for his family, for his neighbors, for his Prophet, for his God. A time that shall come again. When Islam can be progressive for its time, when we will make the world beautiful, when we can be unapologetically Muslim and shamelessly besotted, because God is beautiful, as Muhammad said, and loves beauty.

Memo To The President On Saudi Arabia

Thomas L Friedman, 06 Mar 2018,

When the Saudi ruling family — feeling the need to demonstrate greater piety after the 1979 takeover by Islamist zealots of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — took Sunni Islam down a much more puritanical path, right when Iran’s ayatollahs did the same with Shiite Islam, they changed the face and culture of Islam. And it was not for the better. The Saudis closed all cinemas, banned concerts and fun, choked off trends for women’s empowerment and modern education and spread an anti-pluralistic, misogynist, anti-Western form of Islam far and wide that created the ideological and financial underpinnings of 9/11, ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mohsin Hamid Q&A: “Death Can Do Us The One Service Of Treating Others Better”

Mohsin Hamid, 06 Mar 2018,

Are we all doomed? Individually, yes. As a species, no. All of us, individually, are going to die. That is horrifying. But it opens up the potential for compassion. We can see that every other human being faces the same terrible fate as we do. And we can begin to treat each other accordingly. With greater sympathy. Human history is likely to be a slow, sometimes appalling, often faltering march towards a world where people treat each other better than in the past. Death can do us that one service. So have hope.

White People Don’t Seem To Realise That Eventually The Far Right Will Come For Them Too

Sunny Hundal, 06 Mar 2018,

The wonderful thing about history is that sometimes it’s a guide to the future rather than a recording of the past. This is what worries me. A large number of white people in the west seem to have forgotten the far right will eventually come for them too. They will come for people like me first, of course, but eventually they will come for them as well.

Look, I get it. People are angry. That is usually the reason why they vote for people clearly unfit for the job. But you don’t put out a fire by throwing more fuel on it. The far right will come for people like me. They’ll come for Jews. They’ll come for gay people. They’ll come for the trade unionists, and so on. But then they’ll come for you. Their aim is to reshape society, not just make minor changes to foreign policy.

Your extremists will destroy you. They need power and they are insatiable. That’s why they are extremists, remember?

You can’t control extremists – you can only fight to keep them away from legitimacy.

Lies Travel Faster Than Truth On Twitter—And Now We Know Who To Blame

Will Oremus, 09 Mar 2018,

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when some intelligent observers of social media believed that Twitter was a “truth machine”—a system whose capacity for rapidly debunking falsehoods outweighed its propensity for spreading them. Whatever may have remained of that comforting sentiment can probably now be safely laid to rest. A major new study published in the journal Science finds that false rumors on Twitter spread much more rapidly, on average, than those that turn out to be true. Interestingly, the study also finds that bots aren’t to blame for that discrepancy. People are.

They found that false rumors traveled “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” but especially politics. On average, it took true claims about six times as long as false claims to reach 1,500 people, with false political claims traveling even faster than false claims about other topics, such as science, business, and natural disasters.

Fake News Has A Long History. Beware The State Being Keeper Of ‘The Truth’

Kenan Malik, 11 Feb 2018,

Before Facebook, there was the coffee house. In the 17th-century, panic gripped British royal circles that these newly established drinking salons had become forums for political dissent. In 1672, Charles II issued a proclamation “to restrain the spreading of false news” that was helping “to nourish an universal jealousie and dissatisfaction in the minds of all His Majesties good subjects”.

Now, 350 years on, legislators across the world are seeking to do the same. Last week, the House of Commons digital culture, media and sport committee flew to Washington DC to grill representatives of big tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google. The title of their session echoed Charles II: “How can social media platforms help stop the spread of fake news?”

Lies masquerading as news are as old as news itself. What is new today is not fake news but the purveyors of such news. In the past, only governments and powerful figures could manipulate public opinion. Today, it’s anyone with internet access. Just as elite institutions have lost their grip over the electorate, so their ability to act as gatekeepers to news, defining what is and is not true, has also been eroded.

There is another change, too. In the past, those with power manipulated facts so as to present lies as truth. Today, lies are often accepted as truth because the very notion of truth is fragmenting. “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I believe” or: “This is what I think should be true”.

Seventeenth-century coffee-house owners were forced eventually to accept that only “loyal men” should be licensed to run coffee houses and to promise to inform the king of anything “they know or hear said prejudicial to the government”. We should be careful what we wish for.




Another collection of comedy quotes? Really? Why? Glad you asked. Ideally what I would like to do is stimulate people intellectually. I would like every quote in this blog post to hopefully cause you to come away thinking about something new, something you maybe had never thought about, something you may have never even fathomed about. Until now.

That is what good comedy does. A good stand-up comedian will make you laugh, but a brilliant one will also make you think. And in these divisively dark times I feel like we need comedians to provide the much needed “pure golden light of life’s wondrous absurdity” (as the American comedian Desiree Burch profoundly said in a recent interview). So here, for your delectation and delight, for your intellectual pleasures, are 21 hand-picked comedy quotes, most of them around the theme of religion.

Also, in honour of the recently departed Ken Dodd, a true comedy legend, there are a few one-liners from the great man himself. Enjoy!

A Higgs Boson particle walks into a church. The priest says “Get out! We don’t allow your kind here.” The particles replies “But if you don’t have Higgs particles then how do you have mass?” – Anon

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are virtual currencies that combine everything you don’t understand about money with everything you don’t understand about computers. – John Oliver

How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? Nobody knows. It’s never been tried. – Ken Dodd

I do all my exercises every morning in front of the television. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Then the other eyelid. – Ken Dodd

I don’t mind when my jokes die because they go to heaven and get 72 virgin jokes. – Omar Marzouk

I love reading books. I always pick a familiar cafe to read in. I don’t trust new cafes. They fill me with uncertain tea. – Anon

I was surprised how British Muslims reacted to the Danish cartoons. I thought: “How can you get this worked up about a cartoon?” But then I remembered how angry I was when they gave Scooby Doo a cousin. – Paul Sinha

If we’re all God’s children, what’s so special about Jesus? – Jimmy Carr

I’m a Jew, by the way. It was my agent’s idea. – Simon Amstell

I’m quite a grumpy woman really. I’m quite tired, that’s the problem. And it’s weird being this tired because I mean I’m proper knackered. I’ve got a lot of make-up on my face to be honest. It’s like a burqa of foundation…on my face. Some days I wear a burqa. I think, “Sod it, I can’t work with this.” There’s loads of women round my way that wear burqas and they’re not all Muslim women, I’m telling you now. Some of them are women having a bad hair day that are like, “Right! Burqa day. I’m doing the school run. Get in the car!” So thank God for make-up. Honestly, I properly cake it on, you know. I’m not as close to you as you think I am, that’s how much make-up I’m wearing right now. – Kerry Godliman

Munira Ahmed

In America every other week there seems to be another anti-Trump demonstration. Yet he is still in power and he is still saying lots of bonkers nonsense. There are however a few moments of triumph. There was one moment that really amused me which was in 2017 when Trump tried to institute an anti-Muslim travel ban. So lots of Americans went on strike, lots of people demonstrated and they were carrying placards with images of a Muslim woman in a hijab which was an American flag. And this was driving the racists crazy. I don’t know why racists love flags. I saw one being interviewed and he said “They’re disrespecting the flag! They’re disrespecting the flag! How dare they put it on that woman’s head!” And I noticed behind him there was a poster of a stripper, and her bikini was an American flag. And so I thought when it’s on someone’s head you’re losing your mind, but when it’s on their genitals then that’s okay! – Daliso Chaponda

Irish people love Muslims. They have taken a lot of heat off us. Before, we were “the terrorists” but now, we’re “the Riverdance people”. – Andrew Maxwell

It is fitting that a story about the president having an affair with a porn star is struggling to hold our attention, because the news now has become like porn: we’re desensitized. These days, news wise, we can only get excited about Asian lesbians like Kim Jong Un. – from an edition of Saturday Night Live, 10 Mar 2018

Let me tell you what blasphemy is. It’s the idea there’s a superior being who can make the mountains, the oceans and the skies, but who still gets upset about something I said. He’s an all-powerful being, He’s just got self-esteem issues. – Reginald D Hunter

My agent died at 90. I always think he was 100 and kept 10% for himself. – Ken Dodd

My dad is Irish and my mum is Iranian, which meant that we spent most of our family holidays in customs. – Patrick Monahan

My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’ – Ken Dodd

My favourite religious joke is by Woody Allen: “God is silent. Now if we can only get Man to shut up.” Like all great jokes it right-hands you with laughter while giving you a shooting pain in the solar plexus on behalf of the whole human race. – Ben Miller

Two guys came knocking at my door once and said: “We want to talk to you about Jesus.” I said: “Oh no! What’s he done now?” – Kevin McAleer

What Iran needs now is a more modern leader, a mullah lite. – Shappi Khorsandi

You could be running a wet t-shirt contest in a parking lot in Panama City, and if Trump showed up it would lower the tone. – Bill Maher


Omar Marzouk.jpg

Omar Marzouk is an Australian based Egyptian Muslim who makes some rather brilliant speeches about Islam. This blog post is not about him. Instead it is about another person with the exact same name. The other Omar Marzouk is a Danish based Egyptian Muslim who does some rather brilliant stand-up comedy. Omar the comedian was born to Egyptian parents in Copenhagen in 1973, which is where he also lives with his Danish wife Christine Gjerulff.

Marzouk is one of those bridge-building-comedians, someone who thinks despite our cultural and ethnic differences we are all the same and can laugh at the same things when they presented in the right way. As he says, “I use my comedy to build bridges between cultures.” In his quest to do exactly that he has performed at the Comedy Club in New York, the Camel Comedy Club in Tel Aviv, and the Club Comedy Store in London.

Just a few years ago he had a bit of an identity crisis, where he no longer identified as being Danish due to increased Islamophobia and racism in his home country. It got to a stage where, when travelling abroad, he would tell people he was from Egypt rather than Denmark. Thankfully however, by the looks of things this is something he seems to have resolved within himself as he is still in Denmark and he is still performing stand up.

In 2014 Marzouk did a one hour show at the Copenhagen Jazz House, where he mentioned quite a few interesting things about our perceived fears. Links to this performance are presented below. It should be noted that English is his second language, so he does struggle a wee bit every now and then with his choice of words, but overall this is a really interesting stand up routine. As always I have transcribed some of my favourite parts of the routine and, again as always, some of these quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity, but their original intent hopefully still remains. Enjoy!

Arachnophobia is the biggest phobia there is, and yet most spiders are not dangerous. They’re like Muslims. It’s actually only a very small percentage of us that will kill you. It’s irrational to be scared of spiders, and Muslims, but yet we are. And fear is often irrational, we all have irrational fears.

Social fears and emotional fears are much stronger than physical fears. The only thing stronger than social fears and emotional fears are religious fears. If you are going to talk about fear you have to talk about religion. In my religion of Islam it is pretty simple: a true Muslim only fears God, we’re only supposed to fear God. And that’s why you’ve never seen a Muslim horror movie, because it wouldn’t work. You know the classic scene where the couple is lying in bed and the wife wakes up and says “Ali! Ali! I think there’s a three-headed alien monster in the basement.” Ali would wake up and say “So what? Are you more afraid of the three-headed alien monster than God? Go back to sleep.”

Horror movies don’t work in the Middle East. In Baghdad you don’t need a horror movie to feel terrified. You just walk outside.

I have drank alcohol. You know why I started drinking alcohol? I got so tired of my Danish friends calling me at three o’clock in the morning, because if you’re out drinking and you need a ride home, who do you call? And drunk people always shout. “OMAR! OMAR! WHERE ARE YOU?” And they have to tell you how pissed drunk they are. “I’m pissed drunk, man! Come pick me up. WHERE ARE YOU?!” “I’m standing right behind you dude, just put down the phone and I’ll drive you home.” I think that’s how most of us get into driving taxis. It kind of just dawns on you one night, “I should be making money off of this.”

Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people. We’ve got democracy, welfare, and cable TV. We have nothing to fight for, nothing to be afraid of. We have free health care, we have free education, we have this system that secures the unemployed so almost nobody falls into economic despair. Most people in Denmark have nothing to fear at all, life is pretty secure and most people in Denmark are satisfied. So why start a revolution? Well, you see, that is the problem. If you feel satisfied all the time, you end up feeling nothing. I love Denmark, I think Denmark is an amazing country, but perhaps we’ve become too comfortable. Being too comfortable all the time is dangerous because you end up numb and feeling nothing. Being comfortable for a long period of time makes you emotionally numb…Being comfortable all the time isn’t a good thing. That’s why we like watching horror movies here in the rich, free, western world, because the feeling of being terrified for us is a luxury good. We have to invent stuff to feel fear, just so we can feel alive. Actually I think we’ve reached the point now where we’re starting to invent and imagine stuff that can scare us silly. Just read the front page of newspapers to know I’m right. They’re just trying to scare us now. Here’s an actual headline I saw a while ago, the headline said “Eggs can kill you!” You go “Really? Eggs are dangerous?” “Yes, we did some research and EGGS CAN KILL!” It’s so we all get that small shock every day when we open the fridge and go “Oh my God! One…two…three…there’s 12 of them. 12! And they’re brown! Must be a gang!”

In Denmark we don’t need a revolution against a dictator like Hosni Mubarak, we need a revolution against fear, and we have nothing to be afraid of. We’re just scared silly. That’s the revolution I want to start, a revolution against our silly fears.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear. Your bank and your insurance company are trying to sell you fear. Your doctor has a name and a diagnosis for your fears. The medical industry has pills for your fears. The beauty industry has Botox for your fears. The fashion industry has just the right clothes for your social fears. And are you afraid that your ass looks too big in those pants? Don’t worry because the food industry’s got a diet soft drink for your fears. And the tech industry knows that you’re afraid of missing out, but don’t worry because they have a brand new gadget for your fears. Even your local pet store has a watchdog for your fears. Your hardware store has a whole surveillance system for your fears. Your drug dealer has a joint for your fears. And your gun dealer…no matter how big your fear is, your gun dealer has just the right weapon that will take care of all of your fears. And somewhere out there there’s probably a comedian who wants to sell you a show all about your fears. EVERYBODY is trying to sell you fear!

I didn’t start doing stand-up comedy because I wanted to make money off of your fears. My business plan is jokes. My business plan is jokes for money, remember. But somehow after 9/11 I became famous in Denmark for telling jokes about terrorists. I became famous and I made a lot of money. I’m looking back at it now and maybe I was making money off of people’s fears. You can consider this show an apology.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear but the worst of them all is the news media and the politicians. The politicians have gone crazy with selling us fear here in the free Western societies. Politics used to be a contest of ideas and ideology. Not anymore. Today politics is a race of fear, whoever can make you the most scared wins. Vote for me because that guy is going to take your pension and your firstborn. No, no, you should vote for me because that guy is going to take away your free will and tax your soul. Politics is just a race of who can make us the most afraid. We’re not voting on which direction our society should take, we’re voting on who to be scared of. And it doesn’t really matter who wins an election anymore because nothing changes, because we don’t want change as a people. Change makes us uncomfortable. Too much change makes us scared and then we just become nationalistic or Republicans.

The war on terror has created so much fear of Muslims all over the Western world, all the way from the United States to Australia. Politicians are selling the voters fear of Muslims and immigrants. In this country of Denmark three elections have been won on creating fear of Muslims. It’s become so bad I think we Muslims are pretty close on taking over spiders as the number one phobia…It all started after 9/11. People became so afraid of Muslims that some people were talking about us as if we were vampires. “Don’t use garlic, it just attracts them!…Always carry a small piece of bacon in your pocket…If you have to run then run towards Mecca, it kind of confuses them…I’ve heard if you stab a Muslim in the heart with a knife made of bacon they turn to dust.”

Just before we invaded Iraq for the first time people in this country actually started questioning my loyalty to Denmark. And they would give me these weird questions like “Omar, imagine the Iraqi army was standing outside the borders of Denmark. Would you fight?” Honestly? No, I wouldn’t, because if the Iraqi army was outside the borders of Denmark then that means they’ve beaten every other army throughout Europe. We wouldn’t have a chance!

I have four brothers. My third brother is called Osama. Yeah. And Osama works as a flight mechanic. This is a true story. He works as a flight mechanic for Scandinavian Airlines. He doesn’t wear a name tag when he’s working…Nobody wants to be sitting in a plane seeing the pilot sticking his head out and going “Osama, did you fix the wings?”

I did a show in New York, which was weird. I was making fun of the whole war on terror…and a guy from the audience got so mad at me and in the middle of the show he just got up and said “Fuck you, man! Your country’s next!” I got scared and confused because I didn’t know if he meant Denmark or Egypt…Maybe he meant Ikea, I’m not sure. I’d love to see that on TV, George W Bush going “We know that the Ikeans have furniture of mass discomfort which can be assembled within 45 minutes…if you can read the instructions.”

Everybody was looking for Osama and finally they found him. In Pakistan. We Muslims knew he was in Pakistan all the time. We did. Denmark sent troops to Afghanistan. We knew he was in Pakistan. We sent troops to Afghanistan and I was sitting at home going “You’re getting warmer! You’re getting warmer!” But nobody listened! I knew he was in Pakistan because if there’s anybody that can make stuff disappear, it’s the Pakistanis. And I say this was the biggest respect for Pakistanis. Some of my closest friends are from Pakistan, I just haven’t seen them in many years.

They finally got Bin laden. I was glad when they shot Bin Laden because I thought maybe this fear of Muslims would decrease a bit. The only thing that pissed me off was when I saw Obama on TV telling the world that they have given Osama a traditional Muslim burial. They threw him in the sea! In the ocean! That’s not a tradition we Muslims have. We’re a desert people. Do you know how far we have to walk to get to the sea? We don’t throw anybody in the ocean.

The fear levels of Muslims actually dropped a bit after they shot Bin Laden. And actually at one point there was no fear of Muslims, because something special and terrible happened here in Scandinavia: Anders Breivik. Anders Breivik, a white Christian terrorist, killed 69 people on a deserted island. Scary shit! This was the biggest terror incident in Scandinavia and all Muslims were sitting at home going “Whew! That wasn’t us. That was not us. Habibi, we can go out tonight, it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us!”

Anders Breivik changed the face of fear, for a short while. It was the biggest terror attack in Scandinavia, a white Christian man…For a short period of time the face of fear changed. But not for long, because if you’re in the fear business you’re going to need a steady supply of fear. And nobody is as reliable as the Middle East when it comes to fear and terror. Bin Laden died but then…BAM! We got ISIS. ISIS scared the world silly with their beheadings. They don’t use airplanes, they use social media, which is a much more powerful weapon than airplanes because now fear is everywhere. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Tinder. And our media and our politicians are all too willing to sell us this fear. And maybe we need them to tell us who to be afraid of so we can feel safe. Because it’s only when you know in which direction to look for the danger do you then feel safe. But maybe we also end up looking the wrong way. My best example of this is the States. In the States there have been 35 school shootings. That’s not enough to ban semi-automatic weapons, but after 9/11 I can’t even bring a bottle of water on board a plane, for security reasons. I go “What are you afraid of? Are the pilots Gremlins? What are your actual fears?” I guess it’s easier to live with fear when you know who to fear, for then you can be happy. But it’s a false kind of happiness.