CAPTAIN KHAN AND THE COLONIALS

Imran Clouds

As always there is a lot going on in the world. Where does one start in trying to make sense of any of it? For this blog post I have decided to focus of Boris and his burka-based bumbling: there is a short but interesting article from Labour MP Rupa Huq, followed by just a few of the readers’ letters sent to the Guardian, and then we have the fiercely satirical Daily Mash making a rather relevant point about the crazy scare mongering surrounding the whole British burka debate.

This is then followed up with a humorous anecdote involving former Pakistan cricket captain and now prime minister Imran Khan. I end with some quotes from the last two episodes of the weekly TV show Real Time With Bill Maher and, surprise surprise, my arch nemesis old Trumpy McTrumpFace gets a mention. I remember a few years ago there was a period of several months when the Metro newspaper could not go a day without mention Cheryl ‘Nations Sweetheart’ Cole, and it seems I am the same with El Presidente. Anyways, please be aware that there is a wee bit of bad language in some of the quotes below, so you have been politely warned. Enjoy!


Boris Johnson Is Leveraging Hatred And Racism In His Desire For Power

Rupa Huq, 11 Aug 2018, theguardian.com

His calculated remarks about burqas fuel the flames at a dangerous time for ethnic minorities

I remember the first time I was called “Paki”. It was 1978 at primary school in Ealing, west London, now my constituency. I was quite startled. My playground tormentor had to explain the etymology of the term to me. I retorted: “Actually, East Pakistan has been liberated into Bangladesh since 1971; it’s an independent country”, which shut him up.

I was born in Hammersmith the year after Bangladeshi independence and recall the racism of old. In those days, “the host community” saw the likes of me and the two kids in our school with turbans (brothers) as “Asian” – the shorthand “Paki” overlooking different nationalities. The subtitles of religion had not reared their head. The Satanic Verses and 9/11 changed that when the badge “Don’t freak, I’m a Sikh” was produced, signalling a disaggregation of Asians. Race broke down into religion.

When asked on TV about Boris Johnson’s recent calculated outburst, I found myself doing his voice and gestures. “It was like being in room with him,” Krishnan Guru-Murthy later commented on Twitter. But I fear that the lovable rogue act is wearing somewhat thin. He cannot be trusted: his flippant words endangered Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s life; he wrote two columns on staying in Europe (for and against) and plumped for the latter, on deciding it played better among the Tory membership for his leadership bid; and, as my impression hinted, his private life has been “colourful”. I don’t have a vote in the contest and am not a burqa fan, but in his not very veiled attempt to assume the crown, the damage is already done. It would be a tragedy if he became PM through leveraging hatred against the most visibly different UK community who are already vulnerable and under attack.

It’s not enough to excuse his likening of burqa-clad women to letterboxes and bank robbers as eccentricity when it fuels Islamophobia. As an MP, you’re de facto a magnet for abuse – for me, usually with a Muslim twist, sometimes for speaking about justice for Palestinians, or even the dangers of leaving the EU. This spring, I received an Islamophobic package, containing a “Punish a Muslim Day” warning letter doused in a mystery substance. It resulted in police cordoning off my office as a crime scene and one of my staff being taken to hospital for examination – it was the week after the Salisbury attack. Every time a pronouncement like this is made, women have hijabs ripped off, grandfathers are attacked on the way to mosque and mosques have pigs’ heads left on their doorsteps. Such flippancy has consequences.

At the most dangerously rightward tilting moment in politics since the 1930s, Johnson’s intervention is fuelling the flames of the deplorable rise of all forms of hate crime in our society. With the ransacking of a radical bookshop and rebirth of rightwing thug Stephen Yaxley Lennon as folk hero Tommy Robinson, anti-racists should stand as one against Islamophobia, homophobia and antisemitism. The climate we have in our post-referendum divided nation has disinhibited the hate-speakers. The fate of my late friend and colleague Jo Cox, murdered in cold blood when doing something I undertake weekly – my advice surgery – is a reminder of where these sentiments can lead.

In the meantime, I have no idea what became of my infant school abuser. I’m not going be pursuing him for an apology 30 years on, but wherever he is I hope he’s a reformed character. Sadly, all the evidence on the ground is that racism is taking a more pernicious tone and Boris Johnson has just made it worse.

Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton


What Muslim Women Ought Not To Wear Isn’t A Matter For Boris Johnson

Letters, 08 Aug 2018, theguardian.com

Readers respond to the former foreign secretary’s comparison of Muslim women in burqas to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’.

I think Boris Johnson looks like a baboon’s bottom with a haystack on top. That might be charming if he were a decent human being, but given the malevolent nature of his interventions it would be a blessing to all if we were spared the sight and sound of him, and of his camp followers. He is no joke. Every woman without exception has the right to wear whatever she wants, or nothing at all, without fear of abuse or persecution. – Sally Griffin, Brighton

Lest people think that laws that ban covering the face do wrong only to highly strict Muslim women, please think about the increasing use of cameras with face recognition that can track everyone’s movements around the city. Until we have strict laws that prohibit the systematic practice of face recognition, except using the faces of court-designated criminal suspects, in any areas where the public is admitted, the only way we can protect our privacy is by covering our faces. We must defend our right to do this. I am neither Muslim nor a woman, but these laws attack my rights. They attack yours too. – Dr Richard Stallman, President, Free Software Foundation

It appears that Boris Johnson regularly follows two of President Trump’s principles. First, never apologise (even when you know you are wrong); second, get your name in the media as often as possible (even if you have to do it by expressing insensitive or extreme views). – Alan Bailey, Sandy, Bedfordshire


Burqas Apparently Biggest Issue Facing Family Of Twats From Nantwich

08 Aug 2018, thedailymash.co.uk

Mash Burka

Islamic women’s clothing is somehow having a terrible effect on a white, mostly atheist family in Cheshire. The Sheridan family are angry and upset about a small number of Muslim women wearing burqas, particularly when reminded by politicians and the media.

Mum Donna said: “You could wear a burqa to rob banks. It immediately draws attention to you and there are probably better disguises, but I can’t sleep at night for thinking about it. As a family we’ve got our own worries. It’s hard making ends meet and our son Mark can’t find a job after university, but these women wearing strange outfits in other places are making our lives hell. I worry that people might think they’re post boxes and put letters through the eye slot so they don’t get delivered. That’s never actually happened, but what if it was your car insurance?”

Daughter Jennifer said: “If everyone wore burqas I wouldn’t know if I was talking to my mum, a teacher or a paedophile. My GCSEs would be bound to suffer.”

Dad Steve Sheridan agreed: “It just doesn’t feel like your own country anymore when women aren’t showing plenty of flabby midriff in ill-advised lycra tops. We’re not racist because we worry about all sorts of religious clothing. I’m always fretting about vicars getting dangerously hot under their big cassocks.”


Immy’s In His Prime And Ready To Make A Lasting Impression

Derek Pringle, 30 Jul 2018, metro.news

Imran Khan’s ascent to the prime ministership of Pakistan in the country’s recent elections reminds me of the time he first showed a keen grasp of international relations.

The occasion was the dinner on the eve of the 1992 World Cup. England and Pakistan were the finalists and therefore the guests of honour, though it didn’t feel that way when our Australian hosts unleashed a Queen impersonator as part of the evening’s entertainment.

Disgusted by what they saw as jokes in poor taste, Graham Gooch and Ian Botham — staunch patriots both — stormed out, leaving the rest of the England squad at the bash.

Looking on with interest from the next table was Imran, who suddenly pointed at us and said: ‘Look team, it’s only the bloody colonials who are left.’

He had a point. There was Allan Lamb, born Cape Town; Robin Smith, born Durban; Graeme Hick, born Harare; Chris Lewis, born Guyana; Phil DeFreitas, born Dominica; Gladstone Small, born Barbados; Dermot Reeve, born Hong Kong; and me, born Kenya.

It was an amusing observation but one which would have been perceived as a cruel slight back then had it been uttered by a politician and not a cricketer.

Nowadays, with Donald Trump making nasty the new normal, Immy, as we used to call him, will be ready to trade insults — those sledges learnt on the cricket pitch excellent preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.


Real Time With Bill Maher

This week Trump held two of his hillbilly Nuremberg rallies. It’s scary to people in this profession. He calls the media “the enemy of the people” except, of course, for Fox News. They are so far up his ass they’re the enema of the people. From now on collusion is not a crime but journalism apparently is. We live in a country now where reporting reality gets attacked because it threatens the fantasy world created by the cult leader. – Bill Maher, 03 Aug 2018

I think every American needs to be passionate about this. The free press in this country was enshrined in the Constitution and it predates the Constitution. It is one of the things that makes America different, that makes America special, and that makes America great. And when we have people like the president, with the power of the presidency, trying to whittle away at that, to attack not only the truth sayers but the truth seekers, including the investigators, anybody seeking the truth he attacks. Once you are removed from truth, anything can sprout into that desert. – Charles Blow, 03 Aug 2018

Fear is a contagion in a democracy. Trump uses fear and he is exhausting the opposition. When you are in a fight, you can win two ways. You can bring your opponent to submission, think Germany and Japan after World War II. Or you can break their will to fight, think the United States in Vietnam. And the degree to which Trump and his lies and the constancy of the craziness, it breaks people’s wills. It checks them out. They become exhausted by it. And I think that there is some evidence in the polling to see that’s happening, so 95 days from an election, which I would argue is the most important midterm election in the history of the United States of America, everybody out there has a job to do, and it’s to vote and make sure your friends vote. Because there must be a check on this lawless administration or we’re down the road 10 miles into Trumpistan looking at the United States of America in the rearview mirror. – Steve Schmidt, 03 Aug 2018

This is a new level of political corruption because it’s a corruption of ideas. We’ve always had ways of trying to get at the money corruption, and we pay a lot of attention to it, but what happens when the ideas of a party or a group of political actors are completely corrupted? And that’s what we are seeing. – Lawrence O’Donnell, 10 Aug 2018

It’s always funny when I hear the immigration debate, like I see white supremacists saying “We want our country back.” We didn’t take a cruise here on purpose. We didn’t go “Oh, they’re hiring in America? Get on the boat!” It’s so ridiculous. We’re here because you wouldn’t do the shit you needed us to do. People also say dumb shit like “Slavery is a choice.” So if slavery is a choice I guess Harriet Tubman was just a travel agent. It really is this: this country is getting browner and browner and darker, and that’s just the way it is. So instead of Republicans trying to fuck over poor people, they should get to fucking. I don’t understand that. They should have at it. – D L Hughley, a black comedian, 10 Aug 2018

America hated the Kenyan so much, they gave her to the Kremlin. They hated Obama so much that they’re willing to do whatever to have white supremacy. Listen, Obama was what we aspire to be, Trump is who we are. – D L Hughley, a black comedian, 10 Aug 2018

We had a porno star say she had unprotected sex with the president. If you’re not worried about gonorrhea, how the fuck are you going to help us with North Korea? – D L Hughley, 10 Aug 2018

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DIFFERENT QUOTES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS

Digging-In-The-Dirt

Look deep in your heart. Deeper. Keep going. Somewhere down there you will find a blog shaped hole. The bad news is this blog shaped hole in your heart is there because I have not written a blog post for a good few weeks, partially due to being busy but mainly due to being lazy and slightly middle aged. The good news is that I have just written this blog post that you are happily reading now so prepare to have your hole filled!

Sure, we can argue as to whether the blog shaped hole is actually in my heart rather than yours, but that is kind of missing the point. So, due to the underwhelming outcry that my lack of blogging has caused, please find below 21 quotes I came across recently that I hope you find as interesting as I did. I have tried to make them random and various, so there should be something there for everyone.

Also, as an added bonus I have thrown in a few cartoons from the always awesome and rather controversial cartoonist Mr Fish. Enjoy!

Customer-Is-Always-Right

Either Putin has something on Trump or Trump is just an idiot who got played. And honestly, I don’t know. What did we expect? This is what you get when put a KGB agent up against a KFC agent. – Trevor Noah, on the recent press conference in Helsinki between Trump and Putin

Everybody does better when everybody does better. – Jim Hightower

Governments have always sought to keep secrets and control the flow of information. The Internet threatens that power. Totalitarian systems such as China’s are dealing with the problem by exerting iron control over the Internet within their borders. By erecting a Great Digital Wall, China shields its secrets and makes their transmission difficult. America leans in the opposite direction. Our Internet is a wide-open Gomorrah that makes Vegas look like a Sunday school picnic. Trump is dealing with this uncontrollable flow of information by discrediting information across the board. Published secrets lose their sting if the public is unsure whether to believe them. Trump says one thing today and something different tomorrow. He veers wildly from topic to topic and crisis to crisis, recasting enemies as friends and friends as enemies. And he promotes conspiracy theories while disputing facts. The result is a gradual erosion of the public’s confidence in anything we hear. Sowing doubt and discrediting truth is destructive in the long term. Unfortunately, the digital age — so far, anyway — roars ahead heedless of consequences. It’s no wonder Trump fits in. – David Von Drehle

I can’t believe they cancelled Vivaldi after just four seasons. – tweet from @Holy_Mowgli

I describe my girlfriend as Amazonian, not because she’s tall but because she recommends things I might like based on my previous purchases. – Olaf Falafel

I grew up watching musicals. Miss Saigon, Oliver, Les Mis. Because there’s nothing upper class people like more than going to the theatre and watching other upper class people, dressed as working class people, singing about how hard it is not being upper class people. – Tom Houghton

I like watching Antiques Roadshow with my nieces, because I get to tell them that the old people in the background are ghosts trying to get their stuff back. – Jake Lambert

I love Scotland, it’s such a beautiful country. If only I could speak the language I’d move up there in a heartbeat. – George Rigden

I think people want to laugh about the things that make them similar, not what makes them different. I mean, the funniest part is always the part that everybody can connect with. – Michael Che

I’m a comedian who was committed to a mental hospital and grew up in a rural, isolated agricultural community. I am the definition of Funny Farm. – Juliette Burton

I’m very passionate about education and its power in changing lives and creating a better world, particularly for young people who come from the kind of background that I come from…Reading is something I’ve done a great deal of, particularly while researching my book Natives: Race And Class In The Ruins Of The Empire. And the more I learnt, the more I realised I needed to learn. I am feeling the weight of my own lack of knowledge, my own lack of understanding. – Akala, author and rapper

In 2016 the Democrats and the Republicans played a little game of chicken with each other, and the Democrats said to the Republicans “Oh, you cannot be so stupid as to vote for Donald Trump.” And they said “Don’t ever tell us how stupid we can be.” – Bill Maher

In my view America doesn’t even have an immigration problem. We have a “my life didn’t turn out the way I wanted to so I blame other people” problem. Oh that we have. The greatest con the Republicans ever pulled on working class Americans was convincing them that it was the immigrants and the single mom who were blocking their way to the American dream. – Bill Maher

Jokes about feminism often get 20% less than they deserve. – Adele Cliff

My dad caught me curing a piece of salmon. To teach me a lesson he made me smoke the whole packet. – Olaf Falafel

My dad loves his dog more than us. He makes it a roast chicken seasoned in herbs every Sunday, which is stupid as dogs have no concept of thyme. – Rachel Fairburn

Shame has its place. Shame is what you do to a kid to stop them running on the road. And then you take the shame away and immediately they’re back in the fold. You should never soak anybody in shame. It’s the prolonged existence of shame that then flips out into destructive rage. We can’t exist in that. It’s like treacle. – Hannah Gadsby

There is a massive consensus: we’re all agreed that the world is indeed fucked right now. Everyone knows that the American president is a ludicrous person. In this country (Britain) we’ve got two zombie political parties having a pretend show of political debate that’s never going to lead to anything. And Britain is going through this extraordinary act of sending itself to its room and not coming down as a show of…what? You shat your pants in front of the whole world and you’re sulking? It’s embarrassed by its own behaviour, frankly, and it’s a postcolonial sulk. Everybody’s just looking around, waiting for the embarrassment to fade. But Britain has this tradition of carrying on resolutely, because you’re committed to something, and is therefore locked into a position where it has to be seen to execute the absurdity it doesn’t want to go through with. These are desperate times. – Dylan Moran

Trump isn’t popular here in Scotland because we don’t trust anyone who can live to the age of 72. – Leo Kearse

What’s the best thing about being on your own? To be alone gives you the chance to lean into yourself. When we’re around other people, we’re being a performed version of ourselves that others bring out. It’s not always bad, it just grants you less time to observe yourself in your entirety. While it can feel scary to be alone, that might be because you’re not used to familiarising yourself with your own company. Get used to it! – Chidera Eggerue, social media star

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be president of the United States. – Spike Milligan

THE INSTAGRAM ILLUSION OF LOVE ISLAND

Speak Truth

I try my best to scour the internet to bring you some of the better, more interesting articles out there. This is easier said than done because we live in a digital age where everything happens so quickly. It is like watching a TV show on fast-forward. Nowhere is this speed more apparent than in the 24 hour news cycle. With multiple breaking news alerts a day the narrative is constantly changing. Opinions are reversed such that what was once received wisdom yesterday will become outdated nonsense tomorrow. Theories and opinions are developed by ‘experts’ at the start of the day only to have them thoroughly debunked before lights out. This makes it really difficult to try and stay on top of things. Here’s comedian Michelle Wolf expanding this theme further:

I mean, yes, we’re all addicted. The news makes money off the ratings, and I think we’re all partly responsible, too, because we keep watching it, and so it’s this vicious cycle. Of course they’re going to keep talking about everything outrageous that is happening, because we keep tuning in. But they’re not doing it to present the news; they’re doing it to present a show of some sort. – Michelle Wolf

Aside from the increasing speed of everything, there is also the fact that with Trump in charge we have this weird normalisation of abnormality. A recent example from a few days ago involves Trump giving an interview with The Sun newspaper. He made some rather politically provocative comments and the backlash to what he said was quite strong from many quarters, to put it mildly. So how did Trump react to all this? He just called the whole thing fakes news. He simply denied saying the actual words he actually said during the actual interview, words that are actually recorded for all to actually hear. The Sun responded to Trump calling them fake news by stating that “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well…fake news.” And round and round we continue to go down the digital rabbit hole.

Trump has a communications strategy which is a classic exercise in Orwellian doublethink: repeating false accusations while also shifting his position from a stance that he held just moments before. He did what he does best in situations like these, he adopted a tactic of sheer dogged efficacy to repeat a lie until it was no longer questioned.

There is a bumper sticker that says “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” Trump lies to the extent that whilst he remains calm, soothed by his lies, the rest of us sit there shaking our heads in disbelief. Therefore speaking truth to power is nigh on impossible when the powerful lie so often and so effectively. I have no idea how to explain this phenomena of normalisation, so I will let someone else take a shot at trying to illuminate us all:

Current Moment

And to hopefully add further clarification to what is going on right now, please find below a selection of articles that I hope you find interesting and informative. As always only selected quotes are presented in most of these, and the articles are worth reading in full. Topics include Love Island, truth, ignorance, and euphemisms. Enjoy!


The Death Of Truth: How We Gave Up On Facts And Ended Up With Trump

Michiko Kakutani, 14 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

Two of the most monstrous regimes in human history came to power in the 20th century, and both were predicated on the violation and despoiling of truth, on the knowledge that cynicism and weariness and fear can make people susceptible to the lies and false promises of leaders bent on unconditional power. As Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1951 book The Origins Of Totalitarianism, “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (ie the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (ie the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

Donald Trump, the 45th president of the US, lies so prolifically and with such velocity that the Washington Post calculated he’d made 2,140 false or misleading claims during his first year in office – an average of 5.9 a day. His lies – about everything from the investigations into Russian interference in the election, to his popularity and achievements, to how much TV he watches – are only the brightest blinking red light among many warnings of his assault on democratic institutions and norms. He routinely assails the press, the justice system, the intelligence agencies, the electoral system and the civil servants who make the US government tick.

Language is to humans, the writer James Carroll once observed, what water is to fish: “We swim in language. We think in language. We live in language.” This is why Orwell wrote that “political chaos is connected with the decay of language”, divorcing words from meaning and opening up a chasm between a leader’s real and declared aims. This is why the US and the world feel so disoriented by the stream of lies issued by the Trump White House and the president’s use of language to disseminate distrust and discord. And this is why authoritarian regimes throughout history have co‑opted everyday language in an effort to control how people communicate – exactly the way the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four aims to deny the existence of external reality and safeguard Big Brother’s infallibility.


The Meaning Of Love Island: It Shows The Pain Behind The Instagram Illusion Of A Perfect Life

Mala Mawkin, 04 Jul 2018, theguardian.com

If even these pretty and outwardly confident people can experience such anxiety, doubt and heartache, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same

The adverts are causing body image issues, TV talk shows claim it is “bad for teens” and headlines have dubbed it “toxic and hollow”. Love Island has been accused of epitomising everything that is wrong with the Instagram age – by placing a dozen preened, polished and beautiful contestants on TV in front of a susceptible young audience who end up feeling inferior.

But it’s unfair to say Love Island always has a toxic effect. Instagram has been accused of fuelling a “mental health epidemic” among young people, with the Royal Society for Public Health report naming it the worst social media platform for fuelling depression, anxiety, loneliness, bullying and poor body image. But Love Island might be the antidote.

Because it is filmed 24/7 for every blissful moment, we see the behind-the-scenes tears; for every romantic dalliance, there’s a bitter split. Sure, contestants parade around in swimwear and dress up every night, but we also see them take that makeup off and get into their pyjamas. When Dani Dyer’s boyfriend Jack went into a different villa, with his ex-girlfriend there as a surprise new contestant, Dani said she was scared he would meet a girl with “lipstick, tits, who doesn’t eat toasties every night”. These moments shatter the fakery of social-media images; if even these seemingly perfect people can experience self-doubt and heartbreak, perhaps it’s OK for the rest of us to feel the same.

Maybe this is part of its appeal. On Monday, the show pulled in the highest 16-to-34-year-old audience of any digital channel programme ever, with 1.7 million young viewers out of a total of 3.4 million.

Love Island has given us a salutary window into the psyche of the contestants, behind the confident veneers, and it has revealed a shocking fact: they are just like us. As A&E doctor Alex said when he had struggled, repeatedly, to find a romantic match: “I feel like I’m a leper or something…what is wrong with me?” Name a person who has not felt that way at some point in their lives.


The Ignorant Do Not Have A Right To An Audience

Bryan W Van Norden, 25 Jun 2018, nytimes.com

We are seeing the worsening of a trend that the 20th century German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse warned of back in 1965: “In endlessly dragging debates over the media, the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood.” This form of “free speech,” ironically, supports the tyranny of the majority.

The media are motivated primarily by getting the largest audience possible. This leads to a skewed conception about which controversial perspectives deserve airtime, and what “both sides” of an issue are. How often do you see controversial but well-informed intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Martha Nussbaum on television? Meanwhile, the former child-star Kirk Cameron appears on television to explain that we should not believe in evolutionary theory unless biologists can produce a “crocoduck” as evidence. No wonder we are experiencing what Marcuse described as “the systematic moronization of children and adults alike by publicity and propaganda.”

The invincibly ignorant and the intellectual huckster have every right to express their opinions, but their right to free speech is not the right to an audience.


From Alternative Facts To Tender Age Shelters – How Euphemisms Become Political Weapons Of Mass Distraction

Marina Lambrou, 28 Jun 2018, theconversation.com

The recent images of children in cages provided yet another reason to throw your head into your hands over America’s inhumane treatment of immigrants. So – for most of us – it was a great relief to hear that Donald Trump eventually gave into pressure and signed an executive order to stop enforcing the laws mandating the separation of children from their parents. But there are still many hundreds of young people detained in the euphemistically termed “tender age shelters” – in reality, prisons for children and toddlers.

Who comes up with these terms? They are not fooling anyone – especially as “tender” and “shelters” have completely different meanings to what is, in fact, the enforced separation of children who are then held in cages. That’s the trouble with euphemisms – they can enrich language, but in the hands of politicians they can be strategically used to mislead and disguise brutal practices, concepts and ideas. Euphemisms – or what are known in some quarters as “weasel words” – are used to conceal the truth of unpalatable situations or practises so that they are easier for the public to accept.

Who can forget “collateral damage” – or rather the incidental deaths and injuries of unintended and non-combatant victims? The euphemism – from the Latin word collateralis, which means “together with” – was adopted by the US military in the mid-20th century to describe the unintentional deaths that occurred “together with” the targeting of legitimate targets. The term was first used in the 1961 article “Dispersal, Deterrence, and Damage” by Nobel Prize-winning economist D.C. Schelling. He argued that weapons could be designed and deployed in such a way as to avoid collateral damage and thus control the war.

It didn’t take long for the Trump administration to wheel out one of the more ridiculous euphemisms of recent times. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the counsellor to the US president, Kellyanne Conway, came up with the much-derided “alternative facts” to counter accusations that the then White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration.

Politicians of all stripes quickly come to realise how useful it can be to soften the impact of unpopular actions with some carefully chosen weasel words. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair was a great user of euphemisms in his political discourse. Many examples can be found in his interviews and speeches in 2003 to justify the Second Gulf War on Iraq, for example. He spoke of the “liberation of Iraq” (meaning occupation), “peace-keeping” (meaning war) and these could only be achieved by “removing Saddam” (meaning his death rather than forcing him from a position of power).

A decade earlier, the slaughter, torture and imprisonment of Bosnian Muslims in Serbia was described as “ethnic cleansing” when there is nothing purifying about these war crimes.

The US government’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” is another example of strategic word choices to disguise systematic torture. When he was US president, Barack Obama tended to avoid using the word “war”, preferring to use words such as “effort”, “process”, “fight” and “campaign” to describe the military action against ISIS, Iraq and Syria as it lessens the violence that war connotes.

Euphemisms have become part of political discourse that intentionally obscures, misleads or distracts audiences from unpleasant truths. Unfortunately, this is what politicians do with language and this is how they win support for otherwise unpalatable policies.

THE EXISTENTIAL DEATH OF THE AMERICAN DREAM

American dream CNN

For reasons I can’t explain I have recently been reading a number of articles about the American dream. Given the chaotic political and social situation in America over the last few years there has been a deluge of writing on this topic and, with the chaos set to rise further and given that it is July 4th, American independence day, such articles will continue to be written unabated. Interestingly, pretty much all of these articles talk about the imminent death or the slow decline of this most cherished of American ideals. The American Dream, this mantra of self-improvement that has driven the US through its glory days, is now looking, according to many, decidedly tarnished.

Initially conceived of by Thomas Jefferson as each citizen’s inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the American dream is ingrained deep into the American psyche. It has been talked about by Martin Luther King Jr in his 1963 Letter From A Birmingham Jail. Playwright Arthur Miller refers to the fruitless pursuit of it in his seminal play Death Of A Salesman. Even Barack Obama used the phrase in 2006 when, as a then US Senator, he wrote a best-selling memoir called The Audacity Of Hope: Thoughts On Reclaiming The American Dream. If Obama’s book is an endearing narrative of hope then books such as Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth & Power by Noam Chomsky, and American Dream, Global Nightmare by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies, both present a much darker alternative.

Barack Dream

The world of literary fiction also plays on the American dream theme. Recent examples include the brilliant Exit West by the Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid, and The Golden House by controversial writer Salman Rushdie. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Rushdie commented that:

There’s not much left of the American dream. If you live in New York, the recent issues and politics are so alarming. It doesn’t feel like a city on a hill or a New Jerusalem. – Salman Rushdie, Jun 2018

Perhaps the best literary example of the American dream in fiction came in 1925 when F Scott Fitzgerald wrote his classic novel The Great Gatsby. Set in 1922 the novel is about the breakdown of the ideals behind the American dream. There are few books that capture the pursuit of, and utter disenchantment with, the American Dream as well as The Great Gatsby, so much so that the book has been adapted for the stage hundreds of times all over the world, and it has also been turned into major Hollywood movies. Gatsby has been played on the big screen by Robert Redford in 1974 and more recently by Leonardo Di Caprio in 2013.

There are plenty of other major Hollywood movies that have the American dream as a central plot line, movies such as Citizen Kane, American Beauty, The Godfather, Rocky, Bonnie And Clyde, Wall Street, Titanic, Idiocracy, and The Hunger Games, to name just a few. And musicians such as Childish Gambino also rely heavily on this notion, with various subtle comments being made about the American dream in his controversial music video This Is America, something that caused a bit of an online stir earlier this year.

Stand ups also rely on the American dream for material. The legendary American comedian George Carlin famously said that “It’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it,” a sentiment also made by the British comedian Al Murray:

I love Americans. You’re beautiful people. I love them. I love Americans because the world needs people like Americans because you’re dreamers. You’re dreamers because you’ve got that AMERICAN DREAM! The American dream! You’re an American dreamer dreaming the American dream. Now, the fact is that we don’t ever dream in Great Britain. We don’t. There is no British dream. This isn’t because we lack some sort of sense of moral purpose. This isn’t because we haven’t got a sense of guiding destiny taking us towards a better tomorrow. No! We don’t have a dream in this country because we’re awake! It’s that simple. – Al Murray

I also found a short but interesting clip featuring the American Muslim comedian Hasan Minhaj with his take on the American dream:

Politicians have also spoken about the American dream. Richard Nixon, in his first inaugural address in January 1969, famously said that “The American dream does not come to those who fall asleep.” And if talk of the American dream was good enough for that scoundrel then it’s good enough for the scoundrel Trump. Trump has used the idea of the American dream to propel himself to the highest office in the land. There is even a 4-part Netflix documentary series released earlier this year called Trump: An American Dream. Documentaries tend to humanise their subjects, even if they paint them in an unflattering light. This series, however, paints a grim picture indeed as it reads more like a supervillain origin story instead of something more humanising.

American dream Netflix

One can argue that the origin took place in June 2015 when Trump descended a golden elevator and announced his bid for presidency. In the subsequent speech he made there were many crazy sentences uttered, including the following:

Sadly, the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again. – Donald Trump, 16 Jun 2015

True to his word he has indeed brought this great American institution back to life, according to himself anyway. Some 18 months after declaring its death, Trump announced the glorious rebirth by tweeting the following in early 2017:

And, as if to hammer home this point, in June of this year vice president Mike Pence, speaking at the annual meeting of the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Washington, said:

After eight years of the Obama nightmare, president Trump has renewed the American dream. After eight years of a static economy, stagnant wages and being told that no growth is the new normal, this president kick-started a great American come back. After eight years of retreat, America’s advancing because president Donald Trump has restored American strength at home and abroad. – Mike Pence, Jun 2018

A quick Google News search of the term “American dream” will reveal dozens of articles recently written by various academics, historians, social commentators, and journalists, all of them putting forward their propositions as to why there appears to be a decline in this national ethos.

I find it intriguing that we live in such an advanced technological age, with America arguably the most advanced nation on earth. But yet tens of millions of Americans still seem to suffer such personal ailments as anxiety, depression, substance addiction, and mental health issues. Why is this paradox the case? I guess if you really want to know what is going on in America at the ground level then the following articles will hopefully provide some much needed valuable insight. As always selected quotes are presented and the articles are worth reading in full. As much as one can given the subject matter, enjoy!

American dream game


An Autopsy Of The American Dream

Sean Illing, 28 Jun 2018, vox.com

A conversation with “Tailspin: The People And Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall–And Those Fighting To Reverse It” author Steven Brill.

Sean Illing…

Over the past 50 years, lots of things have changed in the United States. Here are a few examples.

1) A child’s chance of earning more than his or her parents has plummeted from 90 to 50 percent.

2) Earnings by the top 1 percent of Americans nearly tripled, while middle-class wages have been basically frozen for four decades, adjusting for inflation.

3) Self-inflicted deaths — from opioid use and other drug addictions — are at record highs.

4) Nearly one in five children in the US are now at risk of going hungry.

5) Among the 35 richest countries in the world, the US now has the highest infant mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy.

These facts, and many others, are cataloged in a new book by Steven Brill about America’s gradual decline over the last half-century. Brill has been writing about class warfare in the US since 2011, and the picture he paints is as depressing as it is persuasive. The book argues the people with the most advantages in the American economy have used that privilege to catapult themselves ahead of everyone else, and then rigged the system — to cement their position at the top, and leave the less fortunate behind. I spoke to Brill about how this came to pass, why the American dream has vanished, and what it will take to undo the damage that’s been done.

Steven Brill…

The key distinction in the book is between the protected and the unprotected classes. Why is this so important in American society? I think it’s a much more relevant distinction than saying people are Democrats or Republicans, or that they’re conservatives or liberals. The unprotected are all the people in this country who rely on the government in some way to provide for the common good. They actually need public education to be good because that provides opportunity to their children. They need mass transit. They need a fair tax code. They need someone to answer the phone at the Social Security Administration when they get their Social Security check.

And what’s happened over the last three or four years is that big swaths of the unprotected people in this country have gotten very frustrated and angry that basically nothing is working for them — whether it’s the economy, or the highways, or the power grid, or the tax code, or job training programs, or public education, or health care. They basically have the sense that the government’s responsibility to provide for the common good is gone. It’s evaporated. This is why they reacted, or at least 46 percent of them reacted, the way they did in the 2016 election, which was really an effect of severe frustration — “Let’s just elect this guy who’s promising all this stuff. He seems really unconventional, but at least he says exactly what’s on his mind. Let’s try this.”

And the protected class? Well, they’re the “winners” in our system who don’t need a good system of public education because their kids go to private school, who don’t care about mass transit because they can afford to drive anywhere, and they don’t need public health care because they can pay for private coverage. In short, they’re not invested in the common good because they’re protected, and the system is rigged to keep them that way.

The core promise of the American dream has always been that you can do better than your parents. “If you work hard and you play by the rules,” as Bill Clinton used to say, “you can make it in this country.” For a large swath of the country, the majority of the country, that’s just not true anymore.

In many cases, the people doing the most damage aren’t breaking any laws or consciously trying to hurt anyone else. They’re simply doing what they were told to do — go to prestigious law schools, get a job at a prestigious law firm, and make lots of money. But the end result of what they’ve done is increase the gap between the protected and the unprotected, and to create a country that is more unequal and less fair.

I think we need to redirect our old values. The values that were hijacked — the First Amendment, due process, meritocracy, the financial and legal engineering — they need to be redirected to undo some of the damage that’s been done. We have to demand leaders in Washington and state capitals who unite us, who will tell the frustrated middle class that they have more in common with the poor than with the protected class. If we can’t do these things, we’re in trouble.

I conceived the book as an autopsy of the “American dream” when I started, but I also realized that there was another part of the story. In the course of trying to collect all the facts for the autopsy, I started talking to the people who were tackling campaign finance or infrastructure or income inequality, and I realized that there were a lot of people out there doing really important work, really good work. So yes, things are very bad, but the patient isn’t quite dead yet — there are some cures that are still possible.


Suicides Have Increased. Is This An Existential Crisis?

Dr Clay Routledge, 23 Jun 2018, nytimes.com

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released startling new statistics on the rise of deaths by suicide in the United States, which are up 25 percent since 1999 across most ethnic and age groups. These numbers clearly point to a crisis — but of what kind?

Many argue that this is a crisis of mental health care, that people are not getting the services they need. The proposed solution is better therapies, more effective antidepressants and greater access to treatment.

This assessment may be correct. However, the suicide rate has increased even as more people are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety, and even as treatment for those conditions has become more widely available. An additional explanation seems to be needed.

As a behavioral scientist who studies basic psychological needs, including the need for meaning, I am convinced that our nation’s suicide crisis is in part a crisis of meaninglessness. Fully addressing it will require an understanding of how recent changes in American society — changes in the direction of greater detachment and a weaker sense of belonging — are increasing the risk of existential despair.

Like other organisms, humans are in the survival and reproduction game. We have a strong orientation to live — that is, to avoid death. However, the neurological machinery that has helped us survive has also rendered us distinctively ruminative. Our capacity to reflect on ourselves, to think about the past and the future and to engage in abstract thought has given us access to some uncomfortable truths: We know that we and everyone we care about will age, become frailer and die. We recognize that life is uncertain. We understand that pain and sorrow are part of our destiny. What is the point of it all?

In order to keep existential anxiety at bay, we must find and maintain perceptions of our lives as meaningful. We are a species that strives not just for survival, but also for significance. We want lives that matter. It is when people are not able to maintain meaning that they are most psychologically vulnerable.

Empirical studies bear this out. A felt lack of meaning in one’s life has been linked to alcohol and drug abuse, depression, anxiety and — yes — suicide. And when people experience loss, stress or trauma, it is those who believe that their lives have a purpose who are best able to cope with and recover from distress.

How do we find meaning and purpose in our lives? There are many paths, but the psychological literature suggests that close relationships with other people are our greatest existential resource. Regardless of social class, age, gender, religion or nationality, people report that the life experiences they find most personally meaningful typically involve loved ones.

Critically, studies indicate that it isn’t enough to simply be around or even liked by other people. We need to feel valued by them, to feel we are making important contributions to a world that matters. This helps explain why people can feel lonely and meaningless even if they are regularly surrounded by others who treat them well: Merely pleasant or enjoyable social encounters aren’t enough to stave off despair.

All of which brings us to the changing social landscape of America. To bemoan the decline of neighborliness, the shrinking of the family and the diminishing role of religion may sound like the complaining of a crotchety old man. Yet from the standpoint of psychological science, these changes, regardless of what you otherwise think about them, pose serious threats to a life of meaning.

Consider that Americans today, compared with those of past generations, are less likely to know and interact with their neighbors, to believe that people are generally trustworthy and to feel that they have individuals they can confide in. This is a worrisome development from an existential perspective: Studies have shown that the more people feel a strong sense of belongingness, the more they perceive life as meaningful. Other studies have shown that lonely people view life as less meaningful than those who feel strongly connected to others.

Something similar is at stake in the decreasing size of the family. Americans today are waiting longer to marry and have children, and are having fewer children. This may be a desirable state of affairs for many people (though evidence suggests that American women are having fewer children than they want). Nonetheless, researchers have found that adults with children are more focused on matters of meaning than are adults who do not have children, and that parents experience a greater sense of meaningfulness when they are engaged in activities that involve taking care of children.

As for religion, which has long provided the institutional and social scaffolding for a life of meaning, it, too, is in steep decline. Americans these days, especially young adults, are less likely to identify with a religious faith, attend church or engage in other religious practices. But as my research has shown, the sense of meaningfulness provided by religion is not so easily replicated in nonreligious settings: When Americans abandon traditional houses of worship, they increasingly search for alternative religious-like experiences (including those involving ideas about ghosts or space aliens) in order to feel as if they are part of something larger and more meaningful than their brief mortal lives.

There is even reason to think that America’s existential crisis may be contributing to our rancorous political divisions. Studies show that when presented with existentially threatening ideas (such as reminders of their mortality), people respond with increased bias toward their own worldview, particularly if they are not finding meaning in their life through other sources. In this way, our fractious political culture may be fueled not just by ideological disagreement, but also by a desperate search, common to all lost souls, to find meaning anywhere we can.


The Fading American Dream May Be Behind Rise In US Suicides

Andy Coghlan, 27 Jun 2018, newscientist.com

Shrinking life chances plus lack of a social safety net may have left middle-aged Americans more vulnerable to suicide than peers in other rich nations.

Sobering statistics published earlier this month show that the annual rate of suicide in the US has risen by almost 28 per cent between 1999 and 2016. A number of explanations have been put forward, including the 2008 economic crash, the upsurge in addiction to opioid painkillers and the migration of manufacturing jobs to other countries. But none alone explains why the suicide rate is rising so fast in the US as it falls in other rich countries. Is something uniquely American at work?

One of the key drivers could be the American dream itself – the idea that you can work hard and climb out of poverty. A growing mismatch between the life expectations this brings and the increasingly bleak reality for many US citizens could lead to hardship. This may be particularly felt by middle-aged white Americans, who have the highest suicide rates and the steepest rises. The American dream is deeply ingrained, but it no longer seems to be true for working class, middle-aged people.

Unlike the US, governments of rich nations such as Finland, France and Belgium promote healthcare through non-medical support, including housing, education and social insurance. “The US spends plenty, but we spend differently,” says Laudan Aron at the Urban Institute in Washington DC.

This rejection of the state and the prioritising of individual rights, no matter the potential costs, runs right through US culture. It explains why people in the US are more likely to indulge in risky behaviours such as overeating and gun-related activity, and tend to defy safety-based but restrictive norms such as wearing seatbelts. So could this attitude also be behind US suicide rates?

Deborah Stone of the CDC agrees it may have played a part. “It is possible that the culture around individualism and stigma around seeking help does leave people vulnerable, perhaps more so than in other Western countries.”

TRUMP HAS MORE PERSONAL ISSUES THAN BATMAN

Trump Time Cover.jpg

There is so much in the world to get angry and upset about. Don’t worry, I will resist my usual temptation to come up with a comprehensive list that just depresses both writer and reader. With so much going on it can be hard to know what makes it to the top of your righteous indignation list, at which point up steps Trump and says “Hold my beer.”

El Presidente has done many horrible things since coming to power, but separating kids from their parents, in many cases for months on end, is arguably the worst. It was horrible to see pictures of kids crying as they were being taken away from their mums and dads. So, in a perhaps pathetic attempt to try and serve some sort of karmic justice, please find below 17 recently collated humorous quotes about Trump. Some of the comedians featured below have come up with rather cutting insights into Trump and what makes him tick. Enjoy!

Trump Care

Democracy in the US is so corrupted by money that it is no longer recognisable as democracy…The problem is not, as Trump claims, that the election will be stolen by ballot rigging. It is that the entire electoral process is stolen from the American people before they get anywhere near casting their votes. When Trump claims that the little guy is being screwed by the system, he’s right. The only problem is that he is the system. – George Monbiot

Do you think in his experience he’s ever been with a woman where he has seen a sincere look on their face of desire for him? That status will feel very, very empty after a while. And every testimony—like Stormy Daniels’s—they’re all like, “Trust me. I was not into this guy.” They always make it very clear that they’re not attracted to this guy. After a while, that has to take a psychological toll where you’re like, “I’m worth billions of dollars, but every woman who’s ever been on record about me has talked about how disgusting and gross it was and how they had to basically muscle through their revulsion to be with me.” That has gotta just grind at him. – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

Trump will be the world’s first crowdfunded assassination. Trump, an anthropomorphized kneecap peeking out from under a marmalade croupiers visor, with the diet of a pub bin, more personal issues than Batman, and the muscle tone of a coma patient. I suppose the only thing that has stopped him from being assassinated is the suspicion that he could take several bullets to the head and keep talking. – Frankie Boyle, May 2018

I don’t necessarily think that people that voted for Trump are paying attention to what he’s actually doing with regards to issues. I think that they’re just focusing on the latest outrage cycle. – Natasha Bertrand, Jun 2018

I don’t want to call Trump retarded. Retarded is not a nice word to say anymore. But I will say he seems like the kind of guy that pets cats too hard. – Tamer Kattan

I have always said about the Trump people that there’s two things they hate: being called a racist and black people. – Bill Maher, Jun 2018

I think one of the peculiar and unexpected gifts of Trump is that he has taught a lot of people to understand the preciousness of truth. – David Frum

I’m in a dysfunctional relationship with Trump. The more weed I smoke, the more paranoid he gets. There’s something wrong there. – Bill Maher, May 2018

Satirists are struggling in the time of Trump because the president does their job for them. Normally satire is something where you can take something that is true and then you bend it and twist it and exaggerate it until it becomes absurd – but that’s what Trump does in every sentence that he speaks. He’s a self-basting satirist. He is his own joke. The comedians that seem most effective at skewering Trump’s intention are those that act like journalists, such as John Oliver. – Armando Iannucci

The family of Osama bin Laden is a very prominent family in Saudi Arabia. They built Saudi Arabia. They were the construction company that built it. But Osama went crazy. He went that way and the family went this way. He was mad at Saudi Arabia and he was mad at his family, so he went a little cuckoo. And if you think about the breakdown of Osama bin Laden, he is very similar to Trump. He is the spoiled brat billionaire son of a developer who’s mad at everybody. – Russell Peters

There’s something very sick but pleasurable in seeing Trump scream and yell to his MAGA followers, “We’re boycotting the NFL! These guys that are kneeling…” It’s like, these poor people. You’re taking away their health care and jobs, and then you’re telling them, “And the thing you enjoy every Sunday just to get you through the week, I can’t have you watching that because my feelings are hurt.” It’s a level of “I need you guys to be in misery all the time. I’m only happy if I know that you’re being offered zero relief.” – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

To paraphrase the old Marx brothers joke…you look and act like a vulgar clown, but this should not deceive us, you really are a vulgar clown. – Slavoj Zizek, referring to Trump

Trump has got so much compacted meat in his colon that when he takes a shit it’s technically an abortion. – Frankie Boyle

Trump is like a pumpkin having a nervous breakdown. He’s like a corrupt tele-evangelist that Columbo would have as a baddie. – Frankie Boyle

Trump is someone who has not felt pleasure in a very, very long time. He is angry all the time. And so in a weird way that’s the world he wants everyone living in, where he can go to sleep at night at least knowing, “Everyone is as miserable as me, and is feeling just as little pleasure and relief, and is being given no breathing room. At least I can sleep knowing that.” – Patton Oswalt, Jun 2018

Trump thinks the media hates HIM?! One time an Iraqi reporter threw an actual shoe at me. He took it off his foot and lobbed it straight at my noggin. Then he gathered himself, took off the other one and tried it again. But you know what they say: shoe me once, shoes on you, shoe me twice, I’m keeping those shoes. – George W Bush (as played by Will Ferrell), 27 Jan 2018, from a sketch on Saturday Night Live

You can actually make your own Trump policies by going through the incinerator at the Daily Mail and picking through the dust for anything they thought might get them prosecuted. – Frankie Boyle

A POSITIVE END TO RAMADAN 2018

Putin

As always the Islamic world is a mix of contradictions and complexities. There is plenty for Muslims to be down about. Problems exist in Palestine, Kashmir, Yemen, Syria, and in many other parts of the Muslim world. Car and suicide bombings continue to wreak havoc in Afghanistan and other places too. Trump is still insisting on his Muslim travel ban, and Islamophobia is still rising in the Western world, as witnessed recently by the state of rampant Islamophobia in the British Conservative party.

However, this is also the time of Eid-Al-Fitr, a day of celebration right after the blessed month of Ramadan. Traditionally Eid, one of our two annual religious festivals, is a time for Muslims to celebrate and to be thankful. It is a time when we are supposed to give thanks to God for all the good that we have, and for all the potential bad that we do not have. So I would like to end Ramadan 2018 on a positive note. I would like to thank God for the positive and blessed lifestyle that I live here in the West. I would like to thank God for all the countless blessings I always find myself surrounded by. I would like to thank God for allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to openly pray their Eid prayer out in the open, all over the world. And I would like to thank God for making sure that Saudi Arabia only let the Russians score a measly five goals against them in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.

Continuing this vibe of positivity, please find below links to two articles that show, in their own unusual way, just how positive this month can be. There are also links to several photo blogs that show how varied Ramadan and Eid around the world actually is. Think no longer please of Islam as a stereotyped monolith. I hope all of these put a smile on your face. Enjoy!


Why Do I Want My Teenage Muslim Boys To Fast In Ramadan?

Emily Richardson, 14 Jun 2018, theguardian.com

Living in regional Australia, it’s not easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month. But my kids have embraced its hidden benefits

Like most teenage boys, my sons love to eat. Most nights, my 15-year-old polishes off two large servings of dinner before heading directly to the fridge in search of more food.

So as a Muslim kid, how does he – and his younger brother – cope with not eating all day during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset? And what is the point of it for them?

Growing up on a farm in rural Australia, I had no idea about Islam or anything to do with it, including Ramadan, until I went to live in Egypt in 1999 and met my husband, Ahmed.

In a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, it’s easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month, where everyone around you is fasting. There’s a camaraderie because the community is going without food and water together.

It’s a lot trickier to get that same feeling living in a small seaside town in regional Australia, 140 kilometres from the nearest mosque, as we do now.

It would be easy to put the practice of fasting into the too-hard basket, especially with our kids. So, religious obligation aside, why do we persevere?

My kids have never gone to bed hungry. They live fortunate lives, especially when compared to some of their best friends back in Egypt. I think it’s good for them to go hungry so they can empathise with those less fortunate, even if only for a few hours. But still, at the end of each day they know there’s a hot meal waiting for them, which is a safety net the underprivileged don’t have.

Yes, fasting helps teach compassion for those less fortunate and gratitude for what you have. And it’s good for your physical and spiritual health.

But as the mother of two teenage boys, it’s the hidden benefits of fasting that have taken on greater significance as I navigate this phase of parenting.

Any parent of a teenager knows it can be difficult to get them to do anything they don’t want to do. So how do you force a constantly hungry teenage boy to fast every day for a month?

For us, the answer is simple: we don’t. There is no coercion from us, only encouragement. We lay out the reasons why it’s good for them to fast, and then leave it up to them to decide if they want to do it.

Sometimes they fast the whole day. Sometimes they fast half a day. Sometimes they don’t fast at all. We don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. It’s up to them to do it when they feel they can commit to it. Because of this, everything they gain comes from them, from their internal motivation, and not from us.

But it’s not just food and drink they have to refrain from – anyone fasting is also expected to refrain from negative behaviour such as swearing, lying, gossiping, and speaking or acting unkindly.

The Arabic word for fasting is “sawm”, which means “to refrain” – a skill I want my teenage boys to be proficient in.

When I asked Ahmed why he was on board with not forcing the fasting issue, his response was simple: “I don’t want them to resent their religion. They have to want to do it, otherwise they won’t get any benefit from it.”

By not being forced, they are more drawn to it. Seeing their dad (and sometimes me) fast, they’ve always been keen to give it a go. They started by skipping one meal a day, and now often fast the whole day with no problem. They fast as much as they can, with no pressure from us.

By making the decision of whether to fast their choice, what do we as their parents hope to get out of it?

We hope to get boys – who will soon be men – who are able to control themselves, who are able to wait for things in life, who have self-restraint and self-discipline when faced with temptation of any kind, who are able to resist the urge to do something they really want to do but shouldn’t, who are able to see something through to the end even if it gets difficult or uncomfortable.

Our 15-year-old son, Ziad, has his own take on it. “When I fast, I feel empowered and in control of myself,” he says. “And it really makes me appreciate food more! It also makes the family closer because we’re doing something together.”

This year, we’ve found that as we have progressed through the month, the boys have become increasingly motivated to fast. They can feel the benefits. They feel a sense of power over themselves and their decisions. It’s helped them develop a strong mindset.

Over the years, they’ve gone from thinking they couldn’t possibly go without food for a whole day to waking up determined to do it – and realising that something that seems impossible can be achieved if they keep at it.

There are times when less really is more; when you achieve a lot by giving something up.

Ultimately, because it’s their choice, it’s their accomplishment. But it’s everyone’s gain. As Ramadan draws to a close for another year, our boys have taken a few more positive steps on the road to good manhood.


How Ramadan Can Make You Poorer Yet Happier

Timothy P Carney, 13 Jun 2018, washingtonexaminer.com

Despite the old saw that money can’t buy happiness, the two tend to be correlated. Up to about $75,000, the higher your income, the happier you tend to be.

Correlation, of course, does not equal causation. It’s quite possible that the connection between money and happiness is not a direct one. It’s hard to root out the causal mechanism because so many of the good things in life correlate with one another. Income, marriage, sobriety, health, and education all tend to coexist in the same people and communities.

That’s why Ramadan can be so educational. The Muslim holy season may actually separate wealth from happiness.

Thursday night at sundown, Ramadan 2018 comes to an end with a feast called Eid al-Fitr, “Fitr” referring to the breaking of the fast.

Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast during all daylight hours. And this isn’t the sort of fast Catholics do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, where water is allowed, along with a mini-breakfast and mini-lunch. Ramadan fasting means no food, no drink, no water from sunrise to sunset.

A quirk in the Muslim calendar that makes the current Ramadan more brutal than most. The Islamic calendar doesn’t coincide with the Gregorian calendar or with the earth’s orbit around the sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, and every month comprises the approximately 29 days from new moon to new moon. Twelve of these months, an Islamic year, is about 354 days.

As a result, Ramadan cycles through the calendar year. Ramadan began December 9 in 1999, for instance. In 2016, Ramadan lasted from June 7 to July 5. Because of the longer summer days, Northern Hemisphere Muslims have fasted far more in recent years than they did 18 years ago. Muslims in D.C., for instance, face nearly 15 hours of fasting this year, compared to 9.5 hours in 2000.

So why does this have to do with anything? Economists Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott saw this variation in fasting duration as something of a natural experiment. How do longer religious fasts affect a country compared to shorter ones?

So they compared Bangladesh, which is near the equator and thus experiences very little variation in Ramadan fast duration over the years, to Turkey, where the longest day of the summer has nearly 6 hours more sunlight than the shortest day during the winter.

A month with a lot of fasting should affect the people of a country differently than a month with a moderate amount of fasting. Sure enough, the researchers found two correlations.

First, “longer prescribed Ramadan fasting has a robust negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries.” That is, with all sorts of controls in place, the economists found that Turkey’s economy seemed to be dragged down by the longer fasts in years where Ramadan was in the summer — an effect that didn’t pop up in Bangladesh, where summer Ramadan isn’t much different in fast length than winter Ramadan.

It’s not hard to guess why: More fasting means more hours being hungry and low on energy, which means less economic productivity. In these years of longer fasting, GDP per capita fell in Muslim countries with longer fasts, but not in non-Muslim countries.

But here’s the more interesting finding: “increased Ramadan fasting requirements lead Muslim individuals to report greater levels of both happiness and life satisfaction.”

Longer fasts, then, might make Muslims poorer but happier, the study suggests.

As always, the mechanism and causality could be endlessly debated. Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe the key is the camaraderie formed by sacrifice. Maybe the key is the extra joy of the nighttime meals after the long fast. Maybe it’s the ability to eat outdoors in the warm weather after fasting.

Whatever the actual cause, there seems to be an important lesson that we can generalize beyond Islam and beyond Ramadan: Sacrificing, together with family and community, for a higher cause, can bring happiness, without the need for riches.

This is something to recall in America, where the working class is retreating from religion at the same time it is suffering social and economic woes. When we’re reduced to a secular culture, there’s no escaping the connection between wealth and happiness. The only way to detach those two seems to be through religious sacrifice.


These Photos Illustrate The Incredible Diversity Of Eid Al-Fitr In America

Carol Kuruvilla, 15 Jun 2018, huffingtonpost.ca

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr in the Brooklyn

A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on June 15, 2018


Images From Ramadan 2018

Alan Taylor, 12 Jun 2018, theatlantic.com

TOPSHOT-PALESTINIAN-GAZA-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN

A Palestinian youth waves a sparkler next a mosque in Gaza City on May 16, 2018, as the faithful prepare for the start of Ramadan


Black Muslims Are Sharing Photos Of Their Eid Outfits With The Hashtag #blackouteid

Delaney Strunk, 15 Jun 2018, uk.businessinsider.com


Muslims Gather To Celebrate Eid-Al-Fitr

Johnny Simon, 15 Jun 2018, qz.com

Ramadan 2018 3

Iraqi Sunni Muslims attend Eid al-Fitr prayer amid the ruins of a mosque destroyed during the battle against the Islamic State in western Mosul city, Iraq

ISLAM IS ABSOLUTELY NOT AN ARTLESS RELIGION

Salvator.jpg

We humans have always tried in various ways to express ourselves. Where this burning desire emanates from is for historians and other such experts to discuss, but there is no doubt that the desire was there from the start, and it is still with us. The best way that mankind has found to pour forth this need for expression is through the myriad forms of art that we see all around us. The oldest art form is considered to be cave paintings, also known as parietal art, and currently the oldest known cave paintings are over a staggering 64,000 years old.

Let us move on from rudimentary paintings on cave walls to arguably the most famous artist of all time, Leonardo Da Vinci. Amongst his most well-known works of art are the elusive and priceless Mona Lisa, Vitruvian Man, the Last Supper, Lady with an Ermine, and his self-portrait in red chalk. Another famous painting by Da Vinci recently made global headlines. Salvator Mundi (Latin for “Saviour of the World”) is a painting of Jesus Christ that Da Vinci made around 1500. Some 517 years later it was sold at auction by Christie’s in New York for $450.3 million to become the most expensive piece of art in the world.

Officially the painting was sold to Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Farhan on behalf of the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture & Tourism on the 15th of November 2017. Unofficially it was bought by Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Muhammed bin Salman. The Saudi leadership bought the artwork as a gift for the Abu Dhabi government, a close regional partner. The reason for this purchase being so hush-hush is that news of the prince’s acquisition damages his claim that he will impose more transparency on the money accumulated by various members of the sprawling Saudi royal family. The most expensive painting in the world is to be put on display at the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. Yes, the Louvre in Paris, the world’s best known museum which houses the most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, has for the first time in its long and distinguished history decided to open another branch, way out in the deserts of the predominantly Muslim Arabian peninsula.

Why would a Muslim pay such an extortionate amount for a painting of the Christian Jesus, painted by the founding father of the High Renaissance? Are we Muslims not meant to have a reputation for being totally artless, especially when compared to the visual veneration Christianity has of Jesus? Some may argue that this reputation, to be fair, is somewhat self-inflicted since Muslims generally do not promote images of God or any of His prophets, especially the prophet Muhammad. Many a Muslim scholar would argue back that we do not need visual imagery to heighten our spirituality as the words of the Qur’an are more than enough. However, one can easily argue that this artless reputation has no basis in reality.

Art is the most vivid expression of our human existence. It can represent an individual, a community, a nation, a race, a gender, even an entire faith. Since art expresses the beauty of the human experience, Islamic art expresses the beauty of the spiritual experience. I know of many Muslim households that have framed artwork hanging on their walls, usually in the form of Arabic calligraphy. Muslims, like many others, artistically express themselves in many different ways, be it through our food, our homes, our cars, our clothes, our writing, our language. So for us art, and certainly the concept of art, is a big part of our daily lives, whether we realise it or not. Not bad for a group of people who are stereotyped as being bland and uncreative. In fact, just do a quick Google search on “Islamic art” to see the wealth of artistic experience that exists in the Muslim world.

Art still continues to define and shape who we are today. It also helps us to better understand who we were. Take the recent case of a 3000-year-old sculpture of the head of a king that was found in Israel. Archaeologists are currently baffled as to who the head represents, and why a piece of figurative art from the iron age is of such unusually high quality.

The power of art is also recognised by groups such as ISIS who appear to be against the open display of art. Publicly, for the cameras, they will destroy a few statues and other works of antiquity that are centuries old. Privately, they are more than happy to hypocritically benefit from the selling of many other pieces on the artistic black market. The Nazis also understood the importance of art (Hitler was himself a failed art student), but albeit in a different way, which is why they tried to hide and preserve tens of thousands of works of art they looted from museums and wealthy families all across Europe. For more on this please see the excellent 2014 George Clooney movie The Monuments Men, well worth a watch.

One person who definitely sees the power of art in Islamic culture is the British artist Zarah Hussain:

Islamic art is often vibrant and distinctive…Art is the mirror of a culture and its world view. The art of the Islamic world reflects its cultural values, and reveals the way Muslims view the spiritual realm and the universe. For the Muslim, reality begins with and centers on Allah. Allah is at the heart of worship and aspirations for Muslims, and is the focus of their lives. So Islamic art focuses on the spiritual representation of objects and beings, and not their physical qualities. The Muslim artist does not attempt to replicate nature as it is, but tries to convey what it represents. This lets the artist, and those who experience the art, get closer to Allah. – Zarah Hussain, from a 2009 BBC News article on Islamic art

Another person who sees Islam as being anything but artless is Mary Beard. Beard is many things: a historian, a classicist, a Cambridge don, a public intellectual, a professor, and an author. She is also a famous TV historian. There are many such famous TV historians who are ever-present upon our television screens, such as David Starkey, Lucy Worsley, Bettany Hughes, Michael Woods, Waldemar Januzczak, AJP Taylor, Neil Oliver, and Kenneth Clark, to name but a few. Beard is another famous name that can be added to that list. Recently Beard was seen as one of the presenters in the epic BBC 9-part documentary series called Civilisations.

Beard DVD

The title of the documentary series is a reference to a previous BBC TV 13-part documentary series called Civilisation, which was written and presented by Kenneth Clark almost fifty years ago. That landmark program offered one man’s personal view of western European civilisation, from the end of the Dark Ages onwards. It was partly conceived by David Attenborough, then controller of BBC Two, to demonstrate the potential of colour television.

This new series (not only in colour but now also in high definition!) ranges more widely, featuring African, Asian, American as well as European cultures to explore how human creativity began and developed, how civilisations around the world influenced one another, and how artists have depicted the human form and the natural world. It spans 31 countries on six continents, covering more than 500 works of art. Alongside Beard are fellow presenters Simon Schama and David Olusoga, and they all explore humanity’s desire to create and express.

Episode 4 of the series is titled The Eye Of Faith and was first aired in March 2018. It featured Beard on her own travelling extensively all over the world and some of her visits included: sixth-century mosaics at Ravenna, which the Byzantine emperor Justinian and his consort Theodora commissioned to demonstrate the divinity of Christ; the Angkor Wat Hindu temple complex in Cambodia; a statue of the Virgin Mary in Seville, Spain, known as La Macarena; the painting known as the Tintoretto Crucifixion in Venice, Italy; the Buddhist caves of Ajanta, India, whose celebrated Buddhist murals were executed over 700 years starting in the 2nd century BC; the Anglican Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire, an architectural masterpiece in the English fenlands; the 500 year old Kennicott Bible in Oxford, England; and the Quwwat Al-Islam mosque in Delhi, India.

It is clear from this episode that Beard has a unique way of looking at art. She depicts humans and gods in an erudite yet light-touch way. Beard understands that great art makes emotional demands that we may not make of ourselves otherwise. The visionary imagery we see before us can be quite soul-stirring, but only if we understand it well enough, and only if we allow it to be.

Beard Book

There is also a corresponding book, How Do We Look/Eye Of Faith, to the two episodes in the series that are written and presented by Beard. How Do We Look focuses on how humanity has artistically represented the human body, and Eye Of Faith focuses on how human beings have artistically depicted God or gods. In this book Beard implies that informing her travels throughout is the question of “how people look at religious art — or what it is to look ‘religiously’ ” In a review of the book journalist Kathryn Hughes says that “Meaning is always an ongoing process for Beard, concerned not so much with making as making-over.”

The TV program proved so successful that in June 2018 it was announced in the Queen’s Honour List that the Queen was awarding Beard a dame hood. In typically down-to-earth fashion Beard described it as a “smashing honour” and attributed it to the growing interest in her field of work. At the start of the Eye Of Faith episode Beard describes her intellectual quest as follows:

For millennia, art has been used to bring the human and divine together. And it’s given us some of the most majestic and affecting visual images ever made. I want to explore what really lies behind these extraordinary creations and reveal the kind of religious work that art does all around the world. But, for me, the story of religious art is about more than this. It’s about controversy and conflict, danger and risk. Whether it’s Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Jewish, I want to expose the dilemmas that all religions face when they try to make gods visible in the human world. When does the worship of an image turn into dangerous idolatry? Where does divine glorification end and worldly vanity begin? What actually counts as an image of God or of God’s word? – Professor Mary Beard

She goes on to explain the widespread prevalence that such art has:

Religious art gets everywhere. You don’t only find it in churches, temples and galleries. Religion has always brought out the artfulness in people, on the body, in the home, and on the street. – Professor Mary Beard

She ends the episode at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, a building that has been in turn a pagan temple, a Christian church, and a mosque. Now it is a monument to Western civilisation itself and a pilgrimage site for tourists. She ends with the following quote about the modern religion of civilisation:

Only the bare bones of Ancient Greek or any other religion stand here today, but it’s become the focus of a worship of another kind. It’s easy to come to a place like the Acropolis and to assume that whatever religion there once was here has gone for good. But I think we should be a bit more careful. However secular they might be, when people here look at this monument, when they admire its art and engage with its mythology, many are reflecting on questions that religions have often helped us face. Where do I come from? Where do I belong? What’s my place in human history? I think people are engaged in a modern faith here, the one we call civilisation. It’s an idea that behaves very much like a religion. It offers grand narratives about our origins and our destiny, bringing people together in shared belief. And the Parthenon has become its icon. So if you ask me, “What is civilisation?” I say, “It’s little more than an act of faith.” – Professor Mary Beard

But it is her visits to the Sancaklar Mosque and the Blue Mosque, both in Turkey, that really caught my attention. Amongst the people she speaks to is the brilliant calligrapher Soraya Syed, who gives a deeper insight into the Arabic lettering that adorns almost every mosque around the world. In the aforementioned review Kathryn Hughes adds the following candid insight about Islamic art, the Blue mosque, and about Beard herself:

In the second part [of the book] a standout section sees Beard upending that stale old assumption about Islam being an artless religion. To prove her point she takes us into the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and points out that, while there may be no images of human or divine forms, joyous streams of holy writ dance along the ceramic walls and ceiling. So exquisite is this monumental calligraphy, with its repeating visual rhymes and rhythms, that at some point the script ceases to be text and becomes instead its own picture. This effect is even more striking given that the majority of visitors to the mosque will historically have had neither the laser-sharp vision nor the literacy in Arabic to make out the meaning of the words suspended hundreds of feet above their heads. What we are looking at on the walls of the Blue Mosque is nothing less than the divine in visual form. It is this ability to read closely in the interstices of culture that makes Beard such an invigorating guide. – Kathryn Hughes, 01 Mar 2018, theguardian.com

Presented below is a transcript of the 12 minute segment from the episode where Beard travels to these mosques in Turkey. I have tried to provide a link to a video, and I hope it still works. If not, then please try to view all 9 episodes (I am sure they are available somewhere online such as catch up TV) as the entire series is a magnificent eye opener on the vast world we all reside in. So if anyone, including yourself, thinks of Islam as joyless, soulless, uncreative, and artless, then I would strongly advise them to spend the next 12 minutes watching this. The video is a link to the entire episode, with the relevant clip in question beginning exactly at the 30 minute mark. Enjoy!


Out on the rural fringes of Istanbul is one of the most striking religious creations of modern times. It appeared on the landscape less than a decade ago and has drawn people in ever since. It’s the Sancaklar Mosque, the work of one of Turkey’s most visionary architects. This is one of the most startling mosques in the world. What the architects wanted to do is to harness the power of modernism, which is often thought of as a very secular movement, to express the very essence of religious space, stripped of all the non-essentials. And it’s certainly untraditional in all kinds of ways. But, in other ways, it’s exploiting the traditions of Islam very heavily. This inside space is meant to be reminiscent of the Cave of Hira, where the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation of the Word of God that became the Koran. And, of course, it also evokes one of the classic stereotypes that many people now have of Islam, that it’s a religion that is in some way artless. That it prohibits not just the image of God and the Prophet, but the images of living creatures which only the Creator, God, is supposed to be able to create. In fact, the only man-made image is a wonderful piece of calligraphy which is a quote from the Koran. It’s as if what we’re expected to do when we come in here is to see, and go away with, the Word of God. Islam, as a faith of the word, is enshrined in the Koran itself. There are many famous sayings and stories that condemn idolatry and give warning about the dangers of images.

But in the ancient city of Istanbul itself, a very different picture of Islam fills our field of vision. Islam is absolutely not an artless religion. In the whole history of the faith, you cannot trace a single, uncontested line about images of living creatures or about the image of God. In the Middle Ages, the Islamic world held some of the most intricate debates on aesthetics, the nature of beauty, the optics of the human eye, and our sensory experience of the natural world. And there’s a kaleidoscope of stories and parables that are Islam’s conversation with itself about the role of the artist and the purpose of the image. And one of the most revealing takes us into the domestic life of the Prophet Muhammad himself.

One day, Muhammad came home to discover that his wife Aisha had acquired a tapestry with images of living creatures woven into the design. And she’d hung it up. Muhammad is furious, he won’t even go into the house because it’s the Creator God who’s supposed to create living creatures, not some tapestry artist. So, Aisha takes it down, but she doesn’t let it go to waste. She cuts it up and turns it into cushion covers, and that, apparently, creates no problem.

The story of Aisha’s cushion is a wonderful illustration of how Islamic attitudes can shift according to the role and the setting of the image. But there’s one kind of Islamic art whose role and function is much more significant than any other. As soon as Muhammad received the Word of God in the 7th century, calligraphy, or the art of beautiful writing, was taken to the very heart of Islamic identity.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “There is an obligation on the calligrapher to serve the community in which he or she is writing for. But calligraphers were highly esteemed. The pen is the potent symbol of knowledge.”

The art of calligraphy became the means by which the sacred word could be set down, spread, and remain uncorrupted for all time.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “From the very birth of Islam, the first verses revealed to the Prophet Muhammad were by the pen. Therefore, it sanctified the use of the pen at the outset of Islam. And, ever since that point, artisans have been trying to beautify the divine word through that pen.”

Serdar Gulgun, art collector: “Of course, the text of the calligraphy is very impressive but, for me, what is more important is the visual of the calligraphy, the graphic, the balance and the rhythm of the calligraphy. To be a good calligrapher, you have to have years of work in you. Even on one single letter. It takes a complete life to come to that maturity to do a good calligraphy. So, you see all his life in a single stroke.”

With exquisite penmanship, Islam had an art form to set it apart from many other religions. And it was said that while the Koran was received in Mecca and spoken in Cairo, it was Istanbul that produced the finest calligraphers able to write it down.

This is the Blue Mosque. It was commissioned in the 17th century by Sultan Ahmed and, in its almost excessive size and splendour, it was designed to surpass all other mosques in the city. There are no idols or images of living creatures. Instead, the walls are alive with the most ornate patterns. Plants and flowers intertwine in the most vivid glaze of ceramic tiles. And, laced into the scheme, are some of the most extraordinary examples of monumental calligraphy in the Islamic world. It’s as if the Blue Mosque itself was conceived as a great library of Islamic script, and it’s here that we see calligraphy at its most powerful.

When you enter the building, above the door there’s a message telling you to expect something special, that you’re going through the Gates of Paradise. And that’s just one of a whole series of notices throughout the Mosque, often beautifully written snippets of the Koran which guide the thoughts of the faithful and interpret what you see. If you look up into the dome, you’re reminded that it’s Allah who supports the heavens and the world. And it was a message that basically says that you should take back there into the outside world the state of purity that you’ve reached through prayer. It’s as if there’s a written programme here, telling you how to experience the building and how to look at it.

But for those who worshipped and still worship here, there’s another way of reading this writing. Placed high above the prayer hall, the script becomes almost illegible. When it was first painted, many of the faithful would have been illiterate. And, even for those who could read, the clarity of the message is obscured in the rhythm and patterns of the text.

Soraya Syed, calligrapher: “This very magnificent, elaborate script is quite complex. It’s not always easy to read and I don’t think it was meant to be read. Because sometimes it’s there also as a form of blessing. And, just by looking at it, you can absorb some of that blessing.”

What we have to remember is that writing can work in other ways. Here, we are seeing God represented in visual form but not as human. Here, God is displayed as his word in the Koran. It’s God in the art of writing. Now, Islam is by no means the only religion to use writing as a way to negotiate the problem of how you represent the divine. The Christian gospels, for example, can claim that God is the word. But in Islam, more than anywhere else, we see the image becoming the word, and the word becoming the image. In the face of all the debates and prohibitions on images, Islamic calligraphy evolved to redefine what an image of God could be.