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, washingtonpost.com
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, nytimes.com
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, newstatesman.com
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, independent.co.uk
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, slate.com
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, theguardian.com
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.