THE NEWS IS JUST A STRING OF UNRELATED WORDS

Dream Big

We do find ourselves in such a sad, sorry state of affairs. Last night my family and I watched the terrible news of the Catholic cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris burning down to ruin, consumed by dancing orange flames that were destroying one of the most iconic and visited buildings in the world, all live in ultra HD. However, we only seemed to have one thought that was collectively going round and round in our minds. The four of us sat there thinking that if this is a deliberate act, if this is the work of one person, then please Lord, please don’t let be a Muslim.

Aside from this tragedy there have been other things happening. The chronicles of Trump continue unabated, Islamophobia continues to rise and rise, the aftermath of Christchurch still ripples through the news, the futility of Brexit continues roil the UK as it is extended ad infinitum, America is in the throes of its most contentious debate about immigration in recent memory, Ilhan Omar continues to be demonised completely out of context, and so much more.

In my own futile attempt to better understand this ever-changing and always-expanding cultural zeitgeist, here are some quotes that I have collated recently. All said subject matters are covered. Will these quotes shed new light on the ongoing craziness? I doubt it, but they just might. Either way, enjoy…


Brexit is short for “brain exit,” the official word for when everything that makes sense goes out the window, and everyone is just stupid all the time. – John Oliver, Apr 2019

Trump is the Republican id personified, driven to express the impulses and desires of conservative politics in their basest form. That dynamic has been on clear display for the past few days, as the president of the United States leads a campaign of racist demagoguery against Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Somali-American Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress…It is easy to tie these attacks to Trump’s history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. But anti-Muslim prejudice was common in Republican politics before he stepped on the political stage with his “birther” charges against President Barack Obama…Trump has simply brought this rhetoric to the bully pulpit of the American presidency. He has taken everything coursing through the last 20 years of Republican politics and made it explicit. It now has an official seal of approval. And if Omar is a target, it has little to do with what she said and everything to do with who she is: A black Muslim woman — and an immigrant — whose very person disrupts the exclusionary ideal of a white Christian America. – Jamelle Bouie, Apr 2019

The essence of Islamophobia in America today is the belief that Muslims are inherently disloyal or un-American: that their religion is incompatible with “American values,” and that Islamic theology necessarily pushes individual Muslims to support terrorism or commit terrorist acts themselves. – Zack Beauchamp, Apr 2019

The Age of Trump is an age whose signature feature isn’t populism or nationalism or any other –ism widely attached to the president. It’s the attempted annihilation of shame…In days bygone, the prescribed method for avoiding shame was behaving well. Or, if it couldn’t be avoided, feeling deep remorse and performing some sort of penance. By contrast, the Trumpian method for avoiding shame is not giving a damn. Spurious bone-spur draft deferment? Shrug. Fraudulent business and charitable practices? Snigger. Outrageous personal invective? Sneer. Inhumane treatment of children at the border? Snarl. Hush-money payoffs to porn-star and centerfold mistresses? Stud! – Bret Stephens, Apr 2019

Actor Jim Carrey got into a twitter feud this week with the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, because that’s just the kind of thing that happens now and we all have to accept it. News at this point is just a string of unrelated words, like ‘Elon Musk Releases Harambe Rap.’ Or this actual headline I read today, ‘Disabled Chicken Who Survived Weasel Attack Learning To Walk Thanks To Custom Wheelchair.’ Guys, just eat the chicken. – Colin Jost, Apr 2019, from the TV show Saturday Night Live

Things are not in good shape…The whole country is going through some sort of spiritual and emotional crisis. College mental health facilities are swamped, suicide rates are spiking, the president’s repulsive behavior is tolerated or even celebrated by tens of millions of Americans. At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies…No wonder it’s so hard to be a young adult today. No wonder our society is fragmenting. We’ve taken the lies of hyper-individualism and we’ve made them the unspoken assumptions that govern how we live. We talk a lot about the political revolution we need. The cultural revolution is more important. – David Brooks, Apr 2019

Because apparently people are so quick to take offence these days, you have some people who say things like “Everyone’s offended at everything these days.” And in response you think “It’s because you’re hearing from different people that you didn’t have to hear from 10 or 15 years ago, people who now have a platform that they never used to have. And so what you’re actually saying is ‘Years ago I didn’t have to listen to any objections to what I’ve said, and now I’ve got to listen to some objections, and because of that I’ve got to think about what I’ve said, and I’ve got to justify what I’ve said.'” – Richard Osman, Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

I think we’ve got to a really dangerous position where, now, if someone like me who is anti-racist and anti-racism, is in a debate, there is this is need to put me on against a racist, as if racism is like a legitimate opinion. If we were talking about rape, if we were talking about the problem of rape, you wouldn’t have me on TV with a pro-rape activist. You just wouldn’t! You would accept that pro-rape is not a legitimate stance. But when it comes to racism, pro-racism now apparently is so normalised that I find myself having to debate people who are openly and overtly racist. And I think it’s really worrying because it does send a message that these two positions are equal, and we are just having a healthy debate. – Afua Hirsch, Apr 2019, from the TV show Frankie Boyle’s New World Order

Believe it or not, I don’t actually enjoy having to explain that black people are human beings, that the kinds of black kids likely to fall into violent crime come almost exclusively from a very particular set of circumstances, obviously. And those circumstances are the same as the white lads in Glasgow or Liverpool who are likely to fall into violent crime. I don’t enjoy having to explain in the 21st century that simply you being black is not a predeterminant of your behaviour or your future or your aptitude. – Akala, Apr 2019

In the Black Lives Matters era so many white folks do feel judged, first and foremost by their white skin, that so often these days they’re saying why should I give a damn about the content of my Presidents character? In other words, it’s you progressive people who are violating that whole civil rights covenant that you fought, or your people fought so hard to get my people to adopt. So there’s a turning of the tables these days…There are a lot of young men today who are feeling humiliated, and that’s a big word I know, the h-bomb, humiliated by all of the changes that are happening in society, that they feel is being imposed on them. For example, the kind of culture of casual cruelty, and sometimes not so casual cruelty that we’re living in today, means people like me who were once thought to be marginalized but now effectively have these great platforms in our culture, if we continue to tell white men “You’re an idiot, you’re stupid, you have your head up your ass, you’re the exemplars of white privilege, of white supremacy, of white fragility…” The point of course being that that kind of bullying is going to strip people of dignity, regardless of what privilege they come from. So don’t be surprised when the people who are being shamed, blamed, and gamed, don’t follow your rules. Don’t be surprised when you get backlash. – Irshad Manji, Mar 2019, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher

Every single day people like me are subject to a media onslaught. Every single day we are demonised, both by the people who make our laws and by the people who have significant influence over public opinion. And when I say “we”, I don’t just mean Muslims. Because it’s not just Muslims who are losing their lives at the hands of far-right nationalism. It’s Jews and Sikhs and black people. Because when fascism comes to call, it usually doesn’t care what shade of “different” you are. All it knows is that you are different, and it does not like you for it. My fury and my pain is not lessened when a Jewish person is killed, or when a Hindu person is killed. We share a common humanity and that is sufficient for us to feel rage and pain. And it is evident that very many people do feel a sense of shared humanity with those targeted in attacks. Those emotions are not specific to people of colour, or to religious minorities. – Masuma Rahim, Mar 2019

If our politics is becoming less rational, crueller and more divisive, this rule of public life is partly to blame: the more disgracefully you behave, the bigger the platform the media will give you. If you are caught lying, cheating, boasting or behaving like an idiot, you’ll be flooded with invitations to appear on current affairs programmes. If you play straight, don’t expect the phone to ring. In an age of 24-hour news, declining ratings and intense competition, the commodity in greatest demand is noise. Never mind the content, never mind the facts: all that now counts is impact. A loudmouthed buffoon, already the object of public outrage, is a far more bankable asset than someone who knows what they’re talking about. So the biggest platforms are populated by blusterers and braggarts. The media is the mirror in which we see ourselves. With every glance, our self-image subtly changes…On both sides of the Atlantic, the unscrupulous, duplicitous and preposterous are brought to the fore, as programme-makers seek to generate noise. Malicious clowns are invited to discuss issues of the utmost complexity. Ludicrous twerps are sought out and lionised. – George Monbiot, Mar 2019

Pity poor political journalists like me trying to make sense of the situation — sometimes I think you may as well ask a random bloke down the pub…Right now, your guess is probably as good as mine. – Sophy Ridge, Mar 2019, referring to Brexit negotiations

Fox News almost seems to racially profile truth, as if all truth is bad. – Nick Pemberton, Jan 2019

Trump hangs on only because he knows the ruling class has no moral authority anymore. Enough whining about the truth. If you want people to believe the truth, give them an education, or better yet, a roof over their heads. Until that happens, expect the scapegoating of immigrants and all the lies behind it to ring true. And the biggest crime will not be the lie that brought us over the edge, but the condition created that fostered a society where truth did not matter anymore. There are more desperate needs here so when a man like Trump says he can help we do not ask him if he is telling the truth, we only ask how we get to somewhere, anywhere better. – Nick Pemberton, Jan 2019

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Ramadhaan 2019 – Some Useful Resources

Kaba pic

We are nearly at the start of the month of Shabaan (moonsighting.com), which means the month of Ramadhaan is just around the corner. Preparations for this blessed month should ideally begin now.

For me this month is an intense spiritual period where we Muslims step up a gear, where we try to be a better version of ourselves compared to the previous 11 lunar months. I remember reading Ramadhaan being described as ‘high altitude training for the soul.’ In our fast-paced world of hyper-consumption, Ramadhaan is a welcome chance to practise restraint. Ramadhaan is the opposite of indulgence and as such it is a month where we can engage in self-reflection and mental self-flagellation, and hopefully emerge some thirty days later a better person, less prone to excess, less rapacious. Hopefully.

This is the month where we use the power of fasting to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. This month is when we Muslims try to rebalance our spirituality, in order to gain further insight into our faith, a concept best expressed by the Muslim caliph Imam Ali:

Conquer your lustful desires and your wisdom will be perfected. – Imam Ali

With this intention, I am hoping the following list of resources and quotes can insha-Allah (God willing) help us all to make the most of this holy month, myself most definitely included…


Information about the month of Shabaan…

Please see the following PDF file about the month of Shabaan, from the excellent book The Best Of Times by Muhammad Khan. Please read this in order to make the best of this blessed month, and to prepare ourselves for the main event of Ramadhaan.


Islamic lectures…

An excellent lecture about Ramadhaan is Preparing For Ramadan by Shaykh Zahir Mahmood (scroll down the kalamullah.com page please in order to get to this particular lecture).

Another excellent lecture is from Shaykh Hamza Yusuf called Ramadan Advice.


Websites…

A useful website with loads of really good practical hints and tips is http://productivemuslim.com.

I came across a really good website where if you type in a post code it will show you the qibla direction: http://www.qib.la/.


Files…

Five files that will insha–Allah provide some good information:

Complete Guide To Ramadhan

Laylatul-Qadr – guide

Ramadhaan checklist

Ramadhaan preparation pack

Ramadhaan Ashra Duas


OVERALL…

Know that you only get out of Ramadhaan what you are willing to put in. Therefore please make time to read the articles and listen to the lectures highlighted above, before Ramadhaan begins.

To hopefully inspire us all further, here are some quotes related to Ramadhaan and fasting:

We have become like gerbils in the dunya, chasing after things…The job of the dunya is to make you unstable…the more you become immersed in this dunya, the more you become invested in this dunya, then the more unstable you become…Some scholars have said that jahiliya is to see something and to perceive it as something else, that this is ignorance…in Islam true knowledge is to perceive something as it really is, as best you can…people who immerse themselves in this dunya have immersed themselves in a lie, and they are getting played like a piano on Sunday school, and that is why they are not stable…this dunya calls you to become people who are completely insecure with themselves…Fasting and Ramadhaan call us to be stable. – adapted from a speech by Imam Suhaib Webb

Ramadan is not a temporary increase of religious practice. It is a glimpse of what you are capable of doing every day. – Shaykh Abdul Jabbar

The less fasts certain people keep during Ramadhaan, the more eager they seem to be to celebrate Eid. – Anon

This month of Ramadan is about asking “Where is your heart?” Is your heart with God? Is your heart with your own ego? Is your heart with your lust? Is your heart with your passion? Is your heart with your greed? Is your heart with your pride? Is your heart with your envy? Is it with your resentment? Is it with your desire for revenge? “Where is your heart?” That is the question this month is asking us: “Where is your heart?” And this time that we have been given, a few days of reflection, this is the time when you can actually go into yourself, and dig into yourself and ask that question: “Where is your heart?” Because as Sayyidina Ali said “A man lies hidden under his tongue”, because the tongue expresses what is in the heart…“Whoever loves a thing does much remembrance of it”. If you love Allah, God is on your tongue. If you love the world, the world is on your tongue. That is the question: “Where is your heart?” This is the time to return to God, to give the heart back to the One who possesses the heart… – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, from a speech entitled Ramadan Advice

What motivates you? What makes you tick? This is what our Prophet (SAW) called niyah (intention). What is your intention? What is your niyah? What do you want when you’re doing something? What’s your intention for fasting? What is your intention for giving money? Once you begin to address the essence of your own being, you can begin to understand who you are, and that’s why self-knowledge is foundational in our religion. If you don’t know who you are, you’re certainly not going to know whose you are. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The most common question I get from people of different faiths has to be why we fast. Many people answer this question with a response, “to feel how the poor feel when they have nothing to eat.” Personally, I think that since fasting in Ramadan is not that difficult, it is almost an insult to claim that it is to feel the poor’s hunger. The hunger they feel is much greater, especially since they may not know when their next meal will come. Fasting is a means to gain something called Taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that means many things, such as being aware that Allah (our word for God) has full knowledge of your actions and intentions. In Islam, Allah has knowledge of everything we do and even think. Fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It is understanding that Allah has full knowledge. And because of this, we must navigate through the world with caution of our actions and intentions – to be good to our fellow human beings and to yourself. All of our deeds and intentions should be virtuous and for the sake of Allah. Ramadan is an opportune time to be able to reflect and be more aware of this. – Dr Magda Abdelfattah, May 2018, from an interview in the Wisconsin Muslim Journal

Religious fasting traditions — from Ramadan (Islam) to Ekadasi (Hinduism) to Yom Kippur (Judaism) and Lent (Christianity) — are meant to unburden believers from day-to-day compulsions, drawing them closer to their conscience…Ramadan is a month-long spiritual odyssey that is meant to rejuvenate us, both physically and morally. It enables us to detach from worldly pleasures to invest our time in intense prayer, charity and spiritual discipline and focus on our deeds, thoughts and actions…The fast is a reminder of the fragility of the human life and is meant to foster a relationship with God…It teaches us about patience, self-restraint, spirituality, humility and submissiveness to God. The act of fasting for spiritual prowess makes us conscious, not just of our food habits, but of our thoughts, behaviour and interactions throughout the day. Ramadan helps us hone our patience because, by refraining from consumption throughout the day, we learn the benefit of refraining from gratifying each of our desires in the moment. – Moin Qazi

LAUGH IN THE FACE OF HATE

Jacinda Trump

It’s been over a week since an ethno-fascist decided to murder 50 Muslims at prayer, all in a gambit to start a race war. He also injured at least 50 others but, more importantly, he failed to ignite his desired southern hemisphere battle of ideologies, described in detail in his ‘manifesto.’

The shooting, which took place at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was the country’s worst mass killing since 1943, when an incident took place known as the Featherston riot. Guards at the Featherston camp for Japanese prisoners of war shot and killed 48 prisoners during a riot in 1943, during World War II. Initially a Japanese prisoner was shot and wounded by the camp adjutant. This then led to prisoners either charging or appearing to charge the guards, who opened fire with rifles, sub-machine guns, and pistols. One New Zealand soldier also died in the incident.

Returning back to the present, although the Christchurch massacre happened on the other side of the world, its repercussions have been felt everywhere, not least in the UK, where the killer in his ‘manifesto’ called for the death of London mayor Sadiq Khan.

Ironically, a few days before the shooting I read an interesting article in the Asia Times that spoke of the global spread of Islamophobia. Journalist Ömer Taspinar started with Trump but then travelled across the world:

From Donald Trump’s alarmist speech in 2017 in Poland, where he declared “every last inch of Western civilization is worth defending with your life,” to his more recent fear-mongering about “Middle Easterners” hiding in the Latin American caravan and who were about to “invade” the United States, one thing is constant in the US president’s worldview: the specter of radical Islam on the march, ready to take over the West…Trump, of course, is not alone in exploiting this paranoia. In Europe, populist anti-immigration parties constantly beat the drum of Islamization. Witness France, Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, where large Muslim minorities reside. But even Poland and Hungary, with hardly any Muslim immigration to speak of, appear deeply worried about a looming invasion. – Ömer Taspinar, 13 Mar 2019, from the asiatimes.com article Obsession With Islam Blinds West To Real Problems

Whilst the article wasn’t really telling me anything I didn’t know already, or at least nothing I already suspected, it was still shocking to read when written in such unflinching terminology. With these words still fresh in my mind, two days later news came through of the chilling massacre in New Zealand. As I often do in such dark times, I turned to comedians and satirists to see how they were responding. What wise, witty, and comforting words of wisdom could they offer to help me to make sense of this mass shooting?

Laugh Hate

I actually came across news of a comedy benefit gig called Laugh In The Face Of Hate. The gig is to take place at the Hackney Empire in London next month, and will be hosted by Jarred Christmas, a comedian from Christchurch, and also by British Muslim comedian Tez Ilyas. Also scheduled to be on the bill are Sarah Millican, Russell Howard, Guz Khan, Mo Gilligan, Omid Djalili, Al Murray, Shazia Mirza, Al Pitcher, Fatiha El-Ghorri, Nabil Abdulrashid, Matt Stellingwerf, and Javier Jarquin. All proceeds from the gig are going to Victim Support NZ, a group hoping to provide support to the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Tez Ilyas said “During these dark times it is even more important that people come together and show those that would divide us that we will not be conquered by hate. Humour is a universal language and a comedy show with such a diverse bill, raising money for this particular cause, is a perfect ‘screw you’ to all the bigots and fascists out there.”

Jarred Christmas added “I am heartbroken by what has happened in Christchurch, my hometown. The only thing I’m good at is comedy and calling friends, so I called my incredible comedy friends and they answered. Their response has humbled me. So this is what we can do. An amazing night of comedy to let the world know that we are all better than this.”

Before I no doubt blog about this gig (which I can’t wait for), please find below quotes and clips from comedians and satirists who have already commented on this event, an event which, due to the likes of ongoing Brexit shenanigans and the anticlimactic dropping of the Mueller report, is slowly being forgotten. As always I hope these quotes provide a fresh analysis on what happened and the continuing fallout. As best as one can in these dark situations, please enjoy…


The world is still reeling from Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand on two mosques by a white supremacist in which 50 Muslim worshipers were killed. All of our hearts go out to those at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques and the great people of New Zealand. I have been down there and it is the most beautiful country I have ever seen, and Kiwis are the kindest people I have ever met…

Many are questioning our president’s reaction. To his credit, he did send a condolence tweet, and called the prime minister, and she had a simple request for him. She said Trump “asked what offer of support the United States could provide. My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.” That’s not really Trump’s brand. Trump has trouble showing love for things that are not him, and he has a particularly bad record with Muslims in this regard. So he’s in a bind. On the one hand, after a terror attack, to condemn the extremist ideology of the terrorist should be a slam dunk. On the other hand, he can’t jump.

Also, he never ever condemns the racists. After Charlottesville, he said there were fine people on both sides. Remember the guy with all the guns in the Coast Guard? He was a white nationalist; Trump never mentioned that. His very first campaign speech called Mexicans rapists and murderers. He called Africa and Haiti shithole countries. He complained that we don’t get enough immigrants from Norway. He said a Mexican judge couldn’t be fair in a case against him. He refused to disavow David Duke. He calls Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. He said that Nigerians would never want to go back to their ‘huts’ after seeing America. He calls himself a nationalist.

I’m just saying: if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, then why does it keep goose-stepping!?  – Stephen Colbert, 18 Mar 2019


I just love that country…If you’ve never been, go. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the people there are unbelievably kind and welcoming…We want to say to everybody down there how sad, how heartbroken we are for what that country is going through. Because one of the hallmarks of New Zealand, and one of the things that I have always thought of, is it’s this wonderful isolated country so far away from the problems that we take for granted here, north of the equator.

And now this very particular brand of evil has infected that country. Like a ghost, something you wouldn’t imagine. Truly, like an evil creature has arrived on that island. And I pray with all my heart that they take the action down there, and have the courage to take action, that we seem to lack up here in the United States. So, good luck to them, and blessings and peace upon the Muslim community there and everywhere in the world. – Stephen Colbert, 19 Mar 2019


One of the things that got me about this whole thing was people trying to blame Trump for it. And I know this is controversial but I don’t blame Trump. I think in many ways Trump is similar to climate change, in that I don’t think you can pin any one storm directly on climate change, but you’ve got to admit that climate change has an effect on increasing the probability of these storms. And I feel like Trump is the same thing. I don’t think he’s the cause of any of these things, but he does in some way raise the temperature enough that we’ll see more of these things happening.

What I have started realizing, and it’s a scary thought, is that I disagree with people who say Donald Trump inspired the shooter in New Zealand. For me, I feel like Donald Trump is inspired by the same things as the shooter in New Zealand. They’re products of the same white supremacy. They believe the same things. Donald Trump and his people run around always saying “Oh, he’s not a white supremacist.” Yeah, but all white supremacists think he’s a white supremacist. I’m just saying if Beyonce and Justin Timberlake think I’m a great dancer, then I’m a great dancer. I mean, it’s weird to say that I’m not.

But he really is, he’s a product of that. And that’s scary because when you think that he’s the figurehead it makes it almost easy to just go if you just get rid of him then the problem is gone. But I honestly believe that Donald Trump is a product of white supremacy. He’s a product of that fear that has been instilled in many white men in America and in and around the world, who have been led to believe that they’re constantly under assault, and that they’re being replaced, and their place in this world is at risk. They believe they’re being replaced by black people, Mexican people, Jewish people, whoever they’re being told.

But it is a weird fear, it’s a weird feeling that they have. They believe they’re losing even though they’re winning. And it’s hard for many of them to see because, they are winning, but in America people would always argue “Yeah, but you look at how jobs have declined.” But look at this guy, he’s in one of the best countries in the world to live in. So what is his argument? Genuinely. What is his argument? You start to realize that it isn’t only economic anxiety. There’s a larger narrative that’s being spread online to a lot of white men, in a very similar style that ISIS spreads its message, and that is that “Hey, this is your true destiny, this is what’s happening to you, you should be afraid, and this is how you can fight back.” And I think Donald Trump is as inspired by that message as the shooter was. That’s why he needs his Jeanine Pirro’s on TV to help him figure out how he feels about things. That’s why he’s so stressed when they’re not on the air. I think so. Baby needs his bitty. – Trevor Noah, 18 Mar 2019


So, New Zealand. Okay. This is another example of a guy who probably can’t get laid. An ‘incel,’ which, if you don’t know, the term means ‘involuntarily celibate.’ This is a movement now. I’ve said this before, when I couldn’t get laid I kept it to myself! But these assholes? My gosh, when you look at that, Trump supporters, I think there’s some incel stuff going on there. Charlottesville, those look like guys who can’t get laid. Their solution is the government should provide prostitutes. I’m not kidding. They’ve actually said that. Yes, absolutely. Because they think the government should provide things. They’re not getting sex, so…prostitutes. So, actually they’re socialists. – Bill Maher, 22 Mar 2019, from the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher


While ultimately the perpetrators in New Zealand are responsible for their own actions, they don’t live in a vacuum. Rather, in our increasingly interconnected world, the words of visible people play a role in fostering fear, hate and even violence…I’m angry because for years, I and others in my community have practically begged major media outlets to cover the terrorist plots that have targeted American Muslims. If you’re thinking right now –“What recent terrorist threats against Muslim Americans?” — you aren’t alone, and that’s the problem…

Today is a day for mourning for the families who have lost loved ones. They should be our focus. But I can’t escape the anger I feel watching what we in the Muslim community have long warned is the natural consequence of dangers building beneath the surface — demonizing Muslims and failing to expose the terrorist threats directed at Muslims. And for the good of our nation and the world, these faults need to change going forward. – Dean Obeidallah, 15 Mar 2019, from the cnn.com article An American Muslim’s Anger After New Zealand


Let me quickly explain why the Christchurch mosque shooting affects many of us, not just Muslim communities. If the shooter’s manifesto and social media feed are accurate, he was inspired by a right wing ideological infrastructure that thrives, recruits and radicalizes online. He wrote a manifesto, just like Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik. He cites right wing personalities and military battles glorified by white nationalists, such as the Siege of Vienna in 1863 – where Europe staved off Islam apparently.

Like mass murderer Breivik, he wants to punish Muslims and immigrants for allegedly invading his soil, he wants to take revenge. Notice the language of “invasion” – does it sound familiar? It should. It’s used against immigrants and Muslims in America – 2018 midterms. He left behind a video, live streamed his rampage with a camera on his head, making it like the first person video game DOOM. He shared it on social media sites. He wants to be known. He is a hero, a martyr, the one brave enough to do what others can’t to save “Western” civilization.

Compare his methods & alleged ideology to Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed 6. He was a white nationalist who loathed immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Christopher Hasson, a domestic terrorist, just caught, also wanted to kill Muslims, inspired by Breivik. Compare this to the Tree of Life Synagogue shooter in Pittsburgh. He killed 11 Jewish worshippers. He shared a post on his Gad account about punishing “filthy evil Jews” for bringing in “filthy evil Muslims.” This was in reference to the Soros-caravan conspiracy theory.

The underlining ideology anchoring all of this is White supremacy and their main fear is “replacement.” That the immigrants, Jews, blacks and Muslims will replace them, the Whites. Remember Charlottesville? “Jews will not replace us.” See Steve King’s tweets about babies. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief advisor, cites CAMP OF SAINTS as one of his favorite books. He recommends it. It’s a racist novel about brown immigrants “invading” and overtaking France. White nationalists believe Jews are the head of the cabal who use the rest of us. We are dealing with angry, disaffected men, mostly White, who find purpose & community with these extremist groups who give them a hero’s narrative through violent ideology of White supremacy.

They are saving civilization by getting rid of the rest of us. It’s like White ISIS. The victims are not just Muslims, but also Jews, immigrants, refugees, Blacks, Sikhs, Latinos & women (they really hate feminists). It’s a zero sum absolutism. No grey area. Just like ISIS. These groups are rising in the US & Europe. They have mainstream elected messengers. Pay attention. Take this extremist ideology & terror threat seriously. Be wary of politicians, academics & media heads who give it a platform and spout it under the guise of “free speech” and fighting “political correctness.” Look out for each other. Love each other. – Wajahat Ali, 15 Mar 2019, from a series of tweets


I had planned to write my column today about Comic Relief but, well, here we are: cast once again into a pit of disbelief in the wake of the horror in Christchurch, as the very darkest side of idiotic humanity has spilt fresh hell into the laps of unsuspecting people just going about their lives…

Of course, we’ve all been shaken by attacks committed by Islamist fanatics. At the risk of stating the obvious, instilling terror is the primary purpose of a terrorist; the world’s fear is their proverbial made omelette, and the innocent people they murder in the process are just so many broken eggs. I’ve felt that fear myself. I first felt it as a child, when religious fanatics were instructed by Ayatollah Khomeini – the supreme leader of Iran himself – to assassinate a satirist and poet who had criticised the regime and who, by the by, happened to be my dad. He was put on their “death list”, and we got asylum in the UK…

In a masochistic moment, I had a quick rubberneck at one right-wing publication’s comments section, only to find a woman cheerfully sharing that “now they no how it feels not nice when the tables are turned [sic]”. A comment like this, coming from an ordinary British woman who has no worries about her photo and name being published alongside it, is a feather in the cap of the online hatemongers who salivate at the prospect that there might be an immigrant to blame whenever an atrocity is reported, and are conspicuous by their silence if it transpires that there isn’t…

That woman in the comments section will regard herself as a good person. In many ways, she probably is. I bet she and most of the other commenters are lovely to dogs and wouldn’t hesitate to help an injured person in the street, and yet here they are, basking in death and violence and pure distilled misery. But then, she lives in a world where you can casually dehumanise Muslims on a Friday morning without losing all of your friends. We all do. – Shappi Khorsandi, 15 Mar 2019, from the independent.co.uk article Fearing People Because Of Their Religion Is Easier Than You Think – But It Lets The Terrorists Win


I know it’s hard to keep track of all the atrocities happening right now. It feels like every few days there’s a new human rights abuse to be protesting. But we can’t forget about the Muslim ban. We have to fight it as hard now as we did in 2017. Islamophobia is a global curse. It killed 50 people in New Zealand last week and now it is enshrined in our own laws. So dust off your pussy hat…because we have got more work to do. – Samantha Bee, 20 Mar 2019, from the TV show Full Frontal With Samantha Bee


The New Zealand shooter left behind a detailed record of his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric. And unfortunately, these days, this kind of intolerance is being tolerated in more places than you might think. You have to try really, really hard to not see the rising tide of white nationalism, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim sentiment around the globe…If you think all this overheated rhetoric about immigrants doesn’t have real consequences, then you’re ignoring reality. Hate crimes against Latinos are on the rise. And fifty people were killed in New Zealand because a deranged arsehole became convinced that Muslim lives are worth less. Words matter. So think about that instead of focusing on some pointless wall. – Jim Jefferies, 19 Mar 2019, from the TV program The Jim Jefferies Show


This guy was an Australian in New Zealand because he wanted to stop immigration. I’m not sure what the Maori word for irony is but I reckon it’s being used a lot today. It’s really hard to know what to say in a time like this but, okay, I’m going to say this. There’s a lot of fear and tension in the world right now. Clearly we know that. And in an age of social media we ALL have to be responsible for what we put into that world. We have to ask ourselves if we’re making the situation better or worse.

If you post memes that refer to Islam as a religion of violence, you’re not helping. If you compare Muslim women to letter boxes, or pose in front of a photo of migrants with the headline ‘breaking point,’ you’re not helping. If you refer to refugees as locusts, you’re actually contributing to the hate. If you put videos of the shooting online after being advised not to, and if you continue to sponsor news sites that do that, you’re making things worse. It’s all well and good to say this is an act of senseless violence, but if you sent vans around the country that said ‘we’ll send you home if you’re here illegally,’ you’re not helping either. And if you’re a politician who uses this attack as an opportunity to push a racist agenda…You’re! Not! Helping!

The only people responsible for what happened in New Zealand are those that pulled the triggers, we can agree on that. And it’s too late to stop what happened, but if you’re actively spreading hate and false information, or dehumanizing the people you like to see as the enemy, you’re helping to fuel the fire for the next attack to take place. – Adam Hills, 18 Mar 2019, from the TV show The Last Leg

SERIOUSLY, WHERE IS THE LOVE?

Facing Ali

Watching the news feels like a slow spiralling descent into depression, despair, and madness. There are far too many news stories to keep track of, and none of them show any signs of a happy ending. In the UK we have bitter divisions over Brexit which are making the entire British government a laughing stock. School kids all over the world are protest marching, trying to get the grownups to take the looming environmental crisis seriously.

Then you have poor young millennials who are bearing the brunt of the economic damage wrought by late-20th-century capitalism. If generations are characterized by crises, then many an academic is saying that ours is the crisis of extreme capitalism. Add to this further insecurities such as extreme individualism, and no wonder millennials are thrown into a dizzying state of perpetual panic. Author Malcolm Harris has forewarned that “Workers have always been exploited, but that rate of exploitation is increasing exponentially for millennials.”

And over in New Zealand we had one of the worst acts of violence perpetrated in the name of Islamophobia. Having witnessed the carnage in the southern hemisphere, Donald Trump refused to acknowledge the rise of white nationalist terrorism, despite the growing body of evidence that clearly points to a dramatic and overall decrease of Islamist terrorism, whilst at the same time trends show a very worrying increase in white supremacist terrorism. Instead he continues twittering on and on about the caravan hordes that are about to descend upon the greatest country in the world any moment now from its southern border (not true).

Perhaps Trump is refusing to see the rise in white nationalism because it does not play well with his 30% ever loyal base of supporters. Or perhaps he is suffering from mental health issues. Recently George Conway, husband of White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway, wrote on Twitter “Whether or not impeachment is in order, a serious inquiry needs to be made about this man’s condition of mind…His condition is getting worse…*all* Americans should be thinking seriously *now* about Trump’s mental condition and psychological state, including and especially the media, Congress – and the Vice President and Cabinet.” His wife had to dismiss these concerns publicly voiced by her husband. And then Trump tweeted that George is a “loser.” Oh, to be a fly on the wall of the Conway household.

In addition to Trump and his psychological state, it seems the fuse on the mental health ticking time bomb is nearing its end. Professor Jean Twenge recently stated that “The epidemic is all too real. In fact, the increase in mental health issues among teens and young adults is nothing short of staggering…With more young people suffering – including more attempting suicide and more taking their own lives – the mental health crisis among American young people can no longer be ignored.”

For many months now I have had a nagging feeling that things are generally getting worse all across the globe. Whilst there are occasional pockets of happiness and advance, the far too many negatives outnumber the positives. Also, in some weird way I feel temporarily better when I meet a likeminded soul, someone who feels as pessimistically as myself, people like Hannah Jane Parkinson and Kenn Orphan:

The news is so bleak I, like many of us, am struggling. Sometimes, when I read the news I can barely take it. God, we hear people say, the world is so depressing right now! And it is. I really, genuinely, think it is. My head feels as though I have 20 tabs open and all the autoplay videos are clashing. I know I am not the only one who feels this. I know one doesn’t have to have a mental illness to feel it; these febrile times are affecting the mental health of so many people. It isn’t being a snowflake (and aren’t the people who make those accusations always the most thin-skinned?) It is being utterly drained and drowning, as though every breath is just taking in water. – Hannah Jane Parkinson, Mar 2019, from a New Statesman article entitled The World Is Falling Apart. And So Is My Mental Health

Like many others I have found myself encountering a grief that envelops my entire being more and more. An existential grief that cannot ignore our collective predicament as a species and that often accompanies a sense of panic and powerlessness. And I have begun to relate even more to Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream.” It seems to me to be the perfect emblem of our times, an unheard anthem of despair silenced by the absurdity of an omnicidal status quo. And so many of us feel that sense of terrorized paralyzation at the madness of rising militarism, fascism and brutality and an unfolding ecocidal nightmare. – Kenn Orphan, 15 Mar 2019, from a counterpunch.org article entitled Grieving In The Anthropocene

No wonder booksellers recently announced that sales of self-help books are at record levels. And what is causing this perpetual increase in hatred? As far as I am concerned, it is a lack of love and understanding. Increasing divisions mean we hate more and love less, and the internet, with all of its misinformation and disinformation, is making it really difficult to truly understand each other. A brilliant explanation of this comes from the journalist David Brooks who recently wrote about “the crisis of American conscience”:

I often wonder who didn’t love Donald Trump. I often wonder who left an affection void that he has tried to fill by winning attention, which is not the same thing. He’s turned his life into a marketing strategy. Even the presidential campaign was a marketing campaign to build the Trump brand. In turning himself into a brand he’s turned himself into a human shell, so brittle and gilded that there is no place for people close to him to attach. His desperate attempts to be loved have made him unable to receive love. Imagine what your own life would be like if you had no love in it, if you were just using people and being used. Trump, personifying the worst elements in our culture, is like a providentially sent gong meant to wake us up and direct us toward a better path. Trump is incapable of hearing any cries except the roar of his own hungers. This is how moral corrosion happens. Supporting Trump requires daily acts of moral distancing, a process that means that after a few months you are tolerant of any corruption. You are morally numb to everything. – David Brooks, 28 Feb 2019, from a nytimes.com article entitled Morality And Michael Cohen

So how does one even begin to counteract this? Perhaps by getting people to focus on love and not hate. Presented below are two recent examples that I personally came across. I hope these two examples can act as a counterweight to all the negativity that we seem to be surrounded by. The first is from the 2016 movie Patriots Day, about the terrorist bombing that occurred during the annual Boston Marathon on the 15th of April in 2013. Even though the movie was heavily criticised about exactly how accurate it portrayed events, there is one poignant scene when, whilst on an intense manhunt for the bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, two police officers have a private conversation where they try to make sense of the mayhem and chaos. Officer Tommy (played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) is asked by Officer Tommy (not played by lead actor Mark Wahlberg) if these kinds of events are in any way preventable. Officer Tommy responds by telling his colleague a story about his wife Carol and their attempts to have kids:

Seven years ago, on March 11th, we went to the doctor, who said we couldn’t have any kids. Carol couldn’t have any babies. I remember right after that we went home, we parked the car in the driveway, and you don’t make this kind of stuff up, but right there were the Mulaney kids. Three little five-year-old girls out there playing hopscotch. We just sat there dead quiet watching them play. It was like we were in a trance. The sound that Carol made, it wasn’t crying. It was deeper. No, crying does not describe that kind of sound. I looked into her eyes and it wasn’t pain. It was more like war. Like a war between good and evil right there in her eyes. Like the devil attacked and God was inside of her fighting back. I just held her. What else could I do? That’s all I saw today. Good versus evil, love versus hate. When the devil hits you like that, there’s only one weapon you have to fight back with. It’s love. That’s the only thing he can’t touch. What are we going to do? We hunt them down, catch them, kill them, and all that? They’re still going to get us. So no way can it ever be entirely preventable. But if we wrap our arms around each other, let love power us, feed us, then I don’t think there’s any way that they could ever win. – from the movie Patriots Day (2016)

Rather jokingly his colleague Billy then says “I always knew there was a thing of beauty buried deep in the holy soul of Tommy Saunders!”

The last example of love that I found really moving comes from the 2009 documentary Facing Ali, about Muhammad Ali and some of the boxers he fought. One of these boxers is George Chuvalo, who had two fights against Ali. He went the distance both times, in each case losing the decision by a wide margin on the scorecards. The first fight, on the 29th of March in 1966 at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens, was for Ali’s world heavyweight title. After the fight Ali said “He’s the toughest guy I ever fought.”

In the documentary Chuvalo gives some rather raw and emotional details about his family. He speaks candidly about how his family, especially his kids, were plagued with problems:

The wife and I had five children, four sons and a daughter. And I lost three sons and I lost my wife. I lost my three sons to drugs. I lost my wife to suicide after the loss of our second son. One son shot himself. Two others died of a heroin overdose. And my wife died, ironically, from pills that she’d taken from my sons in a previous drugstore heist. The hold that drugs have on a person is unbelievable. I was told by one of my sons that drugs had such a strong hold on him that when he and his brother would go down to use them, they would ask the dealer at the bar if he had any, and the dealer would show him the white stuff in the palm of his hand, the heroin. And when they would see the smack in the dealer’s hands my sons would be so desperate for it that as soon as they would see it, within the flash of one single second, the very first single second, both of my sons, on cue, would crap their drawers. They would crap their drawers as soon as they saw the drugs. Then they would pay for the drugs. Then they would take the drugs into the bathroom of the hotel where they were and they would then they would suck it up in a syringe and they would shoot it into a waiting vein. And only then would my handsome sons clean themselves off. Every time I tell that story I get sick to my stomach. When my son died, four days later my wife took her life. That was such a bleak period. I was in bed for a month and a half. I don’t even remember going to the bathroom during that period. I must have, but I don’t remember. But I do remember my son Mitchell coming to visit me. My son Steven was alive at the time. My daughter Vanessa. My daughter-in-law Jackie. My only grandchildren at the time, Jesse and Rachel, who are Steven’s children. And some of my friends coming over, hugging me and kissing me and telling me they loved me each and every day. Every day. And I remember articulating to myself after a few weeks how love made you feel. I said “Love makes you feel strong. Love makes you feel tender. Love makes you feel secure. Love makes you feel appreciated. Love makes you feel important.” I think we all like to feel strong, tender, secure, appreciated, important. I think we all like to feel like that. – George Chuvalo, from the documentary Facing Ali (2009)

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF A JOKE

Trevor Noah Pak

Never underestimate the power of a joke. The right joke told by the right person at the right time can have a powerful effect. For example, the British comedian Russell Howard wrote a joke about ISIS that made BBC chiefs so nervous they asked him to rewrite it, in case it offended the fundamentalist Islamist terrorists. Seriously. The comic recently revealed that BBC executives asked him to change a routine in which he attacked ISIS as “not being Muslims” following the 2015 Paris attacks that killed at least 130 people.

During a more recent routine about freedom of speech on his Sky One show The Russell Howard Hour, he recalled that “A while back I worked for the BBC and I did a piece about the Paris attacks when I said ISIS weren’t Muslims, they were terrorists. And the crowd cheered. And then, at the end of the show, the BBC lost their mind. ‘You need to re-record it! You need to say ISIS aren’t devout Muslims.’ I was like ‘Are you worried we are going to offend ISIS? Are they going to write in?'”

Howard then imagined a terrorist mastermind penning a letter of complaint. “Dear Points Of View, imagine my horror when I was misrepresented on a late-night satire show. Farouk and I will be cancelling our TV licence. Please excuse my handwriting. I have a hook for a hand.”

He then added “Fuck those traitors to their faith! If they are killing people, the least I can do as a comedian is call them names. And if ISIS gets upset, then fuck them.”

However, when the routine was broadcast on his former BBC show, Russell Howard’s Good News, the words “devout Muslims” were used instead of just “Muslims,” thus keeping in line with the executives wishes. But he did also manage to call ISIS “hypocritical cowards,” “warmongering pricks,” and “ignorant thugs who hijacked a religion to create fear.”

This case unfortunately reminds us that if we live in a culture where words and jokes are taken as seriously as this, then even those comedians considered to be thoroughly ‘right-on’ will get bitten.

The converse is also true, where the wrong joke told by the wrong person at the wrong time can result in a comedian drowning in a great deal of hot water, something Trevor Noah now knows all too well. Over the past month the long-standing tension between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan over the disputed region of Kashmir reared its ugly head again. But in New York, 7,000 miles west of Kashmir, something apparently far worse, far more dangerous, or at least far more tweetable, happened.

In late February 2019 the South African comedian came under fire for joking about the recent tensions between the two countries. During an episode of The Daily Show, a satirical news program, host Noah began by comparing the decades-old geopolitical Indo-Pak dispute to the Cardi B-Nicki Minaj beef, but with nukes! He then said “Obviously, I hope India and Pakistan don’t go to war. But if they did go to war, it would probably be the most entertaining war of all-time. It would also be the longest war of all time.” He sarcastically added “Another dance number!” and then put on an Indian accent and suggested that a potential war scene would play out like a Bollywood musical.

Whilst Noah was genuinely trying to be satirical (he did add a cautionary “I’m sorry, I love Bollywood, I do”) his playful satire drew outrage on Twitter, forcing the 35-year-old comic to apologise.

Later he added that “It’s amazing to me that my joke about the conflict in India and Pakistan trended more than the story of the actual conflict itself. Sometimes it seems like people are more offended by the jokes comedians make about an issue than the issue itself.”

Noah is a recent addition to a long list of celebrities who seem to spend an inordinate amount of time apologising in the social media era. This may be because they have become more offensive or because we have become more fixated with social media, to the point where we increasingly find ourselves residing in an echo chamber of self-manufactured righteous rage. Who knows? Certainly not me. All I know is the following random selection of comedic quotes I have recently collected are funny to me, and I hope they are to you too. Enjoy!


Trump covering up his crimes is the hardest he’s ever worked. – Brooke Van Poppelen

Calling him “Mr. Trump” feels like calling a squirrel “Sir.” – Jess Dweck

The whole Trump saga is like the Godfather but if all of the characters were Fredo. – Dan Pfeiffer

I was a cool person at one time. I used to do cocaine. That’s true. Me! The person you’re looking at! I would smell it into my nose and I’d get a high from it. A quick tip from my experience, doing cocaine will not make your ex-girlfriend get back together with you, but it will make her worry about you. And in the end, what’s the difference? – John Mulaney

Happy Presidents’ Day. Yeah. I’ll be honest, this is another American holiday I don’t quite understand. Do you pull a president out of the ground and then, if it sees its shadow, there’s six more weeks of democracy? Do I have it right? Is that the thing? – Trevor Noah, 18 Feb 2019

The NBA is launching a 12-team basketball league in Africa, which is bound to be awkward when they’re trying to recruit players. They’re gonna get there and say “Hey, Africa! So, America’s searching for the biggest, strongest people you have. There’s gonna be a draft. The owners are gonna pick who they like best. So, what do you guys say?” Africans will be like “White man, we are not falling for that again! Not this time! Enslave me once, shame on you. Enslave me twice, shame on me!” – Trevor Noah, 18 Feb 2019

The reality is this situation is far too complex for an up or down referendum, which by the way was also true of the first one. Because when voters were just asked to leave or stay without a sense of what that might actually mean, the first referendum was a terrible idea because it was the government punting a difficult decision to the people which, in the peoples defence, is not their job! They elect politicians to make reasoned fact based decisions on their behalf. That’s how representative democracy works…Sometimes you don’t know stuff so you hire someone else to know it for you. If you came to your doctor with stomach pain and he said “Well, what do you think? Should your appendix leave or remain?” You’d probably say “Don’t ask me. Do your fucking job?!” – John Oliver, Feb 2019, talking about the complexities of Brexit, especially the idea of a second referendum

I’m really going to do it, you guys. I’m really going to have no kids. I can’t believe it. I’m baby crazy, that’s what’s insane about it. I love kids. I LOVE kids. The only thing I love more than kids is doing anything I want at all times. But kids are great. I bet your kids are a great measurement of time, right? You can go “Well, let’s see, that was when Billy was four, so that was 1998.” That’s so great to have that. When you don’t have kids all you have is 9/11. It puts such a malaise over just about everything you try to recall. – Sarah Silverman

I think it’s very funny and very strange that the only non-white member of the Spice Girls is called Scary. – Nish Kumar

I’m very happily married now. My wife is Jewish and I was raised Catholic, which you could all tell from the moment I walked out. That’s not a big deal, getting married between Jewish and Catholic. Only a couple of people asked about it, and they were MY parents. Before we got married my mother asked me if my wife was going to convert to Catholicism. You’re right to laugh. It’s a stupid question. “I don’t know, mom. Let me go ask. Let me go see if a 29-year-old Jewish woman who doesn’t like ANY of my suggestions, would convert to, what was it again? Roman Catholicism?” How would I even have that conversation? What, do you come home with a brochure and you’re like “Hey honey, allow me to tell you about an exciting not new organization. Don’t Google us! You know that strange look of shame and unhappiness I have in my eyes at all times, especially after sex, and it was all forced on me at birth? What if you voluntarily signed up for it?” – John Mulaney

I used to be a primary school teacher, I used to teach 9 and 10 year olds. On parents evening once there was this racist dad and he came up to me, he was very cross because we’d been studying Islam. He said “I’m not happy that you’ve been teaching my son about Islam. How long has this been going on for?” I said “Since the seventh century. I’m amazed you’ve never heard of it. What else do you not know?!” He was still very cross and he said “My son shouldn’t be learning about Islam, he should be learning about Christianity. Islam is too confusing.” I said “Well, to be fair sir, Islam is a lot less confusing than Christianity.” And he said “What do you mean?” And I went “Well, in Islam you’ve got one main character, Mohammed, who goes up the hill and has a chat with God, he then comes back down the hill and, ta-da! Religion! Granted, there are other plot points, there is a lot more to it than that, you’re right, but my audience were nine years old so they just lapped it up because that explanation was good enough for them. Now, compare this to Christianity, where you’ve got God and Jesus, who are both the same guy, but Jesus is God’s son. They’re the same person, which is mental as a premise. And God sends his son, who is himself, to earth to die, to then go back to his dad, who is himself…And there’s a ghost.” – Donald Alexander

You’ll remember at school that you would have to do work but some of the children finish their work early, which is really annoying because then you have to think of more stuff for them to do. In the trade we call them ‘fast finishers’ but they’re really just arseholes. You just end up giving them something to draw. And Sophie is really bright and she pops up her hand and she says “Mr Alexander! Mr Alexander! I’ve written up all the facts about Mohammed. Should I just draw a picture of Mohammed now?” And I said “Great idea,” very quickly followed by “NOOOO!” On top of all that, I thought she was going to use glitter, which is breaking one of my teaching rules. – Donald Alexander

SHAYKH HAMZA YUSUF ON BOREDOM

2007 2019

One of the many negative effects of modern technology is that our memories are no longer what they used to be. This digital age is completely changing and potentially damaging the way we remember things forever. Our reliance on smartphones, search engines, and social media is affecting our memories so much that there has been a key shift in both the way we process memory and our attitudes to memory: we are moving away from the act of remembering, to the act of knowing where to look online for quick answers to our questions. Essentially, we no longer need to remember because anything we need to find, we can simply look up in a matter of seconds.

Many of us have also evolved from a reliance on digital memory to a total dependence on it. Modern technology has therefore resulted in causing us to become obsessed in recording what we are seeing, rather than trying to actively remember it. We are seeing life through how it can later be shared on social media, rather than living in the moment. We record what we want people to see and subsequently we are remembering it through how it has been filtered and portrayed on social media, rather than how it actually happened. It seems that our experiences are no longer ‘real’ unless they are Tweeted, Instagrammed, or YouTubed. Our smart phones and new technologies thus act as our memory repositories, with so much of our lives entrusted to the cloud.

Smart

Most of us can no longer do simple things such as remember phone numbers. We also no longer remember directions, We don’t have to, we don’t the feel the need to. Assuming we could to begin with, most of us can no longer recite poems (something that is almost unheard of now). And even our most personal events are generally recorded on our mobiles. Rather than remembering what we ate at someone’s wedding, instead we scroll back to look at all the images we took of the food. This is just one example of how the act of recording has become more urgent than seeing that which is being recorded. As a result the present is literally being screened out by the digital as the default way of seeing the world, with the unrecorded areas of our lives shrinking fast.

Facebook doesn’t just want to own your images, it wants to own your temporality. Slowly, and steadily, we outsource our relationship to time to a corporation, which reminds us every morning where we were last year, or a decade ago. Not only does it distort memory, it also distorts forgetting, an essential tool of happiness…Facebook randomizes and decontextualizes memory and detaches it from our current self. – Philip Kennicott

It may actually be worse. Some of us may have no control over what gets posted online about us during our formative years. Recent reports suggest almost a quarter of children begin their digital lives when parents upload their prenatal sonogram scans to the internet. 92 percent of toddlers under the age of 2 already have their own unique digital identity. Parents are now shaping their children’s digital identity long before these young people open their first email. What these parents may not be aware of is the disclosures they make online about their kids are sure to follow their children into adulthood. In light of a person recently trying to sue his parents for giving birth to him without his consent, I wonder how long it will be before a teenager sues their parents for sharing their entire life thus far online without their consent.

Another way technology is affecting us is by taking away our ability to just daydream, to just be bored. In fact, technology has stopped us from just being. Here are four different views on why being bored is more beneficial to us than we perhaps realise:

The gift of boredom is that it can show people that you have permission to not read. You have permission to try to just do nothing. Because that is the way that we do our best problem solving and come up with original ideas. You are not doing that by refreshing your Twitter feed or the headlines again. – Manoush Zomorodi

It’s all too easy to spend hours staring at YouTube as algorithmically generated recommendations feed more and more content into the queue. But to spend hours deliberately looking out a window—virtual or otherwise—is another thing entirely. It requires mental fortitude and endurance. A capacity for boredom. It challenges you to resist opening another tab, to avoid checking for notifications, and to merely observe the landscape before you. – Arielle Pardes

Boredom is not tragic. Properly understood, boredom helps us understand time, and ourselves. Unlike fun or work, boredom is not about anything; it is our encounter with pure time as form and content. With ads and screens and handheld devices ubiquitous, we don’t get to have that experience that much anymore. We should teach the young people to feel comfortable with time…So lean in to boredom, into that intense experience of time untouched by beauty, pleasure, comfort and all other temporal salubrious sensations. Observe it, how your mind responds to boredom, what you feel and think when you get bored. This form of metathinking can help you overcome your boredom, and learn about yourself and the world in the process…Don’t pull out a screen at every idle moment. Boredom is the last privilege of a free mind. – Gayatri Devi

Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency…Despite the lesson most adults learned growing up — boredom is for boring people — boredom is useful. It’s good for you. If kids don’t figure this out early on, they’re in for a nasty surprise…Every spare moment is to be optimized, maximized, driven toward a goal. When not being uberparented, kids today are left to their own devices — their own digital devices, that is…Things happen when you’re bored…You might turn inward and use the time to think. You might reach for a book. You might imagine your way to a better job. Boredom leads to flights of fancy. But ultimately, to self-discipline. To resourcefulness. The ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and to self-regulate…It’s especially important that kids get bored — and be allowed to stay bored — when they’re young. That it not be considered “a problem” to be avoided or eradicated by the higher-ups, but instead something kids grapple with on their own…Perhaps in an incessant, up-the-ante world, we could do with a little less excitement. – Pamela Paul

Bed Teddy

More alarmingly science is only now starting to determine just how important being bored is to our mental health. The more time we spend online in the digital realm, the less we are listening to ourselves, the less our thoughts wander, and it’s only when thoughts are allowed to wander that they become interesting. Over the past decade or so, neuroscientists have come to recognise the value of a more inward kind of attention. This inward mind-wandering, far from being random neural chatter, is now recognised as the source of some of our deepest insights and most strategic thoughts, thoughts that are crucial to mental health and creativity.

Scientists first started taking mind-wandering seriously after noticing that when people in a brain scanner have no mental tasks to perform and are thinking about nothing in particular, their neurons do not rest but instead become active in a different way. In the brain’s resting state, a web of interacting brain regions called the “default-mode network” kicks into gear. Our minds start roaming through time and space, replaying memories and conjuring future scenarios. We reflect on our personal relationships, simulating encounters with others as emotions such as anger, joy, or anxiety ghost through us. We also solve problems, seemingly without effort, which is why we have the truism that the best ideas come to us when we are in the shower or going for a walk.

From an Islamic perspective, we need time to mentally get away from it all so we can spiritually grow. In bodybuilding muscles do not grow in the gym, they actually grow whilst resting and recuperating outside of the gym, assuming they are given enough time to rest. The spiritual brain works in a similar capacity, where it grows when resting (in contemplation), again assuming it is given enough time to rest.

From a saying of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) we know there are two blessings which many people misuse, their health and their free time. We also know that the Prophet said that “A servant of God will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his time and how he used it.”

That is one of the reasons why the Prophet would retire to a cave just on the outskirts of the town of Mecca. Since the Prophet was deeply interested in matters beyond this mundane life, he would often spends days in this small cave to get away from his busy trading life, in seclusion with his thoughts, thinking, contemplating, understanding, comprehending, and self-reflecting. He often did this even before receiving the official call to prophethood at the age of 40.

The cave (known as Hira‘ on the Mountain of Noor (light)), which has miraculously survived to this day, gives a very vivid image of the Prophet’s spiritual inclinations. Resting on the top of one of the mountains north of Mecca, the cave is completely isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, it is not easy to find even if one knew it existed. Once inside the cave, it is a total isolation. Nothing can be seen other than the clear, beautiful sky above and the many surrounding mountains. Very little of the outside world can be seen or heard from inside the cave. In fact it was here inside this cave where God revealed to the Prophet the first verses of the Qur’an through the angel Jibraeel.

This idea of contemplation is central to Islam. In multiple places the Qur’an reminds readers that it is itself only a reminder and as such it continuously asks the reader questions of self-reflection such as “Do you not hear?”, “Do you not see?”, “Do you not understand?”, “Do you not contemplate?”, “Do you not reflect?”, “Do you not recollect?”, and so forth. In addition, Muslims are instructed to get away from it all 5 times a day through our daily prayers. 5 prayers a day, every day, 365 days a year. Islamic history tells us that God initially wanted us to pray 50 times a day, but the Prophet managed to bring this number down to 5. The number 50 shows just how much we perhaps need to stop and reflect more inwardly on a regular basis.

My favourite scholar, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, has touched upon this idea many times during his lectures. His are just some of his words of advice that all Muslims should take great heed of:

Hamza Contemplate

The great sin of our time, in my estimation, especially amongst young people, who are preoccupied on their cell phones, is distractibility. This is called ‘acedia’ in the seven deadly sins. The great desert monks called it the ‘noonday devil’. And they say that its quality was always to be like that of the monk, who instead of meditating, would look to the window and would listen to see if anybody was in the quarters. Like people now who check their cell phones to see if they have got any new notifications.

People are losing their ability to sit and be patient in thinking deeply about things. The quality of boredom (malal) and being bored is very important. It allows us space and time for creativity. But now everybody has these machines so they are never bored anymore. They are never left to ‘their own’ devices to think of something.

Contemplation and the idea of actually being alone does not really exist anymore. One of the things now, with all these technologies, is that people don’t get bored anymore, because they just go on YouTube and watch videos, or they text somebody. They don’t have that downtime. Boredom is a very important part of the human experience, because out of boredom comes great creativity. One of the things that Kierkegaard talks about is that we are becoming a culture of busyness, everybody is busy, and he was talking about Denmark 200 years ago. So think about what he would think of our culture now.

St Thomas Aquinas said that every culture has to have certain peoples that all they do is contemplate, and every culture historically had those people. And those people are very important people because they are the Socrates’s of that culture, they are the gadflies. They are the people that challenge whatever the politically correct views of existence are out there. Confucius said when everybody says ‘this is good’ then that is actually bad, if you don’t have people challenging, if you don’t have people questioning these things.

And there’s so many people that they will throw these pat responses: “You’re not against progress are you? You can’t be against progress.” Well, if you are lemmings and your progress is going over the cliff, do you really call that progress? We are committing social communitarian suicide, as a people, as a species. What is happening to us as a people?

We have got a culture of people that have been so dumbed down through this educational process, because they are not given any time to think. They cannot just sit back and think, because thinking is a dangerous thing. But as Heidegger pointed out the word think is related to the word thank. There is a powerful human need to think because thinking is a way of thanking the One who gave you the gift of thought.

BILL HICKS AND FRANZ KAFKA ON WHY WE READ

Bill Hicks Flag

The 26th of February 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of William Melvin Hicks. More commonly known as Bill Hicks, he was an American comedian who is by far my favourite stand up of all time. The Texas born comic died of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the obscene age of just 32. Among comedy aficionados he is considered to be one of the greatest of all time. Fellow comics Jamali Maddix and W Kamau Bell say Hicks is their favourite too, as does the always controversial Frankie Boyle, who said of Hicks “He was my favourite comedian. He’s probably the reason I’m in comedy. He’s still probably my favourite comedian.”

High praise indeed. One of Hicks more famous comedy routines comes from his 1991 show Relentless, recorded at the Centaur Theater during the annual Just For Laughs Comedy Festival in Montreal, Canada. The routine involves Hicks ranting about anti-intellectaulism, which he believed was highly prevalent all over America, reaching some what epidemic proportions. Bear in mind this was well before the internet overtook all of our lives, so God only knows what he would make of the state of anti-intellectualism in the world today, with all these social media platforms and a reality TV star in the White House:

Get this! Another true story, this is going to frighten you because it’s absolutely true. I’m down in that town Fyffe [in Alabama]. After the show I go to a waffle house. I’m not proud of it, I’m hungry. I’m eating, I’m alone, and I’m reading a book. Waitress walks over to me. “Hey! What you reading for?” Is that like the weirdest question ever? I have never, ever been asked that. Not “WHAT are you reading?” but “WHAT ARE YOU READING FOR?” “Shit, you stumped me. Why do I read? Hm, I don’t know. I guess I read for a lot of reasons. One of them is so that I don’t end up being a fucking waffle waitress, alright?” Then, this trucker at the next booth gets up, stands over me and goes “Well, looks like we’ve got ourselves a reader” What the fuck’s going on here? It’s like I walked into a Klan rally in a Boy George outfit or something. It’s a fucking book, I read, there, I said it. Waitress goes “Why read when you can just flip on the tube?” “Because it’s not the same. What do you think I’m reading, Hee Haw: The Book?” She said “Huh?” – Bill Hicks

The following YouTube comment provides the perfect analysis to what this routine means:

So love this. The perfect example of inverted intellectual snobbery. The scourge of every school playground. It’s like “Why do you wanna learn? You fink you’re better than me or what?!” Classic lazy arse bully using the bright kid in class as a scapegoat for their own insecurities. And the bully’s probably being raised to put material gain ahead of ever learning anything. Never trust a man whose TV is bigger than his bookcase. Never trust a man who doesn’t even possess a bookcase. Too cool for school eh? Not so cool when living on welfare thinking the world owes you a living. – Judi O’Regan

There is even a t-shirt that you can buy to show how much you agree with Bill:

Bill Hicks T Shirt

The reason why I mention this nearly 30 year old routine is because it came to mind when I recently read a quote by Franz Kafka. In a letter dated November 1903 the then 20-year-old German novelist wrote to his childhood friend, the art historian Oskar Pollak, describing the type of books Kafka thought were worthy of reading. So perhaps Hicks (whose situation in that waffle house can be ironically described as somewhat Kafkaesque) would have been better placed to answer why he reads if he himself had come across a translation of this letter, for in it Kafka pronounced that:

Altogether, I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound or stab us, that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading does not shake us awake with a blow to the head, then what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you put it? Good Lord, we would be just as happy precisely if we had no books at all, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves if we had to. But what we need are the kind of books that affect us like a disaster, that hit us like a most painful misfortune, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished into forests far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe. – Franz Kafka

Combining the wisdom of both Hicks and Kafka, we read books in order to shake us awake by grieving us deeply, we read to smash the frozen sea ice within us. We read words that stab us, and if not stab then at the very least poke us, prod us, enough to get just a few neurons and synapses to fire, to reawaken, to overcome the slumber and numbness brought on by modern living, with its fast food, day time TV, reality shows, and ever demanding smart phones. I am hoping that the following selectively chosen words can do something to combat the anti-intellectualism that we are surrounded, by breaking into the frozen sea in all of us. They cover a wide range of topics, from Trump to Islam to American optimism to Muslim fundamentalism. Let that literary axe fall where it may. Enjoy!


Let’s cut to the chase, folks. We. Need. Wall. Okay? We have a tremendous amount of drugs flowing into this country from the southern border, or ‘the brown line’ as many people have asked me not to call it. That’s why we need wall, because wall works, wall makes safe. You don’t have to be smart to understand that, and in fact it’s even easier to understand if you’re not that smart. – President Trump, 16 Feb 2019, as played by Alec Baldwin on the TV show Saturday Night Live

I’m so tired of telling Trump jokes. We’ve been making fun of this dude and his dumb ass wall for so long, I gotta be honest, now I kind of want to see the wall. I’ve never seen anybody so confident of such a bad idea. It’s almost charming. I’m not saying we should let him build the wall, but what if we just let him do a Power Point presentation or a dramatic reenactment? I just want to see exactly what Trump thinks is gonna happen when a Mexican cartel sees a wall. What do you think, they’re just gonna shake their fists and walk home? Do you know how motivated you got to be to sell drugs? I know a guy that swallowed a bag of dope, pooped it out, washed it off, and then still sold it. You can’t build a wall to stop that kind of behaviour…This wall is clearly racist. It’s just a way for middle America to blame brown people on their new heroin habit. Why didn’t they build a wall for us black people in the 1980s when we needed it? But the problem isn’t that drugs are coming in, the problem is people really want to get high. Address THAT part. If your wife is cheating on you, she is not going to stop because you built a wall around the house. You’ve gotta get to the root of the actual problem, otherwise you’re just going to come home and find strange men running around in them slats. – Michael Che, 16 Feb 2019, on the TV show Saturday Night Live

Trump has been hoisted high by his vision of the presidency as the world’s highest-rated reality-TV drama. His instinct to escape every previous episode’s failure by creating a new drama for the next episode has served him well to date. But reality TV is ultimately not reality. Government is very real, and hedged by realities. Reality is now exacting its retribution upon the Trump presidency. Ahead looms the fate that the reality-TV star must most dread: the cancellation of the whole crazy series. – David Frum, Feb 2019, from the theatlantic.com article A State Of Unreality

America was “discovered” by white European Christians, who, armed with a papal document called the “Doctrine of Discovery,” authorized them to possess “the new world.” They conquered and colonized the Americas on the bones of indigenous peoples and the backs of enslaved black persons. The European settlers believed that Providence led them to America and was calling them to fulfil their “manifest destiny” of sweeping across and conquering the continent. The killing, conquering, uprooting, walling in — and conversion — of the “heathen” Indians were part of the Divine design. Similarly, the oppression of black persons: from slavery to Jim Crow Laws to segregation to continuing discriminatory economic and physical walls maintained by a white-controlled status quo. A Divine design straight out of the Bible: the white Christians settler fathers and mothers believed that America was Biblically ordained to be ”the light of the world – like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14) – Reverend William E Alberts, Feb 2019

Fascism is not an ideology; it’s a process for taking and holding power. A fascist is somebody who identifies with one group — usually an aggrieved majority — in opposition to a smaller group. It’s about majority rule without any minority rights. Which is why fascists tend to single out the smaller group as being responsible for or the cause of their grievances. The important thing is that fascists aren’t actually trying to solve problems; they’re invested in exacerbating problems and deepening the divisions that result from them…Violence is a crucial element of fascism. Whatever else it is, fascism involves the endorsement and use of violence to achieve political goals and stay in power. It’s a bully with an army, really…Fascism is always, in the end, about stirring people up and giving them someone to hate…America is not an example of a good democracy right now, and that’s a problem. We’re not the leader I think we used to be. – Madeleine Albright, Feb 2019

For all their patriotism, Americans rarely think about how their national identities relate to their personal ones. This indifference is particular to the psychology of white Americans and has a history unique to the US. In recent years, however, this national identity has become more difficult to ignore. Americans can no longer travel in foreign countries without noticing the strange weight we carry with us. In these years after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the many wars that followed, it has become more difficult to gallivant across the world absorbing its wisdom and resources for one’s own personal use. Americans abroad now do not have the same swagger, the easy, enormous smiles. You no longer want to speak so loud. There is always the vague risk of breaking something…American exceptionalism did not only define the US as a special nation among lesser nations; it also demanded that all Americans believe they, too, were somehow superior to others…American exceptionalism had declared my country unique in the world, the one truly free and modern country, and instead of ever considering that that exceptionalism was no different from any other country’s nationalistic propaganda, I had internalised this belief. Wasn’t that indeed what successful propaganda was supposed to do? – Suzy Hansen, Aug 2017

The years since the second world war have brought the US military to country after country. The big wars are well-known: Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. But there has also been a constant stream of smaller engagements. Since 1945, US armed forces have been deployed abroad for conflicts or potential conflicts 211 times in 67 countries. Call it peacekeeping if you want, or call it imperialism. But clearly this is not a country that has kept its hands to itself…Today, the US continues to hold overseas territory. Besides Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and a handful of minor outlying islands, the US maintains roughly 800 overseas military bases around the world…None of this, however – not the large colonies, small islands, or military bases – has made much of a dent on the mainland mind. One of the truly distinctive features of the US’s empire is how persistently ignored it has been. This is, it is worth emphasising, unique. The British weren’t confused as to whether there was a British empire. They had a holiday, Empire Day, to celebrate it. France didn’t forget that Algeria was French. It is only the US that has suffered from chronic confusion about its own borders. The reason is not hard to guess. The country perceives itself to be a republic, not an empire. It was born in an anti-imperialist revolt and has fought empires ever since, from Hitler’s Thousand-Year Reich and the Japanese empire to the “evil empire” of the Soviet Union. It even fights empires in its dreams. Star Wars, a saga that started with a rebellion against the Galactic Empire, is one of the highest-grossing film franchises of all time. – Daniel Immerwahr, Feb 2019

One of America’s defining characteristics used to be optimism…America’s national identity is built on the dream of individual aspiration and self-improvement, but for a long time this has existed more as a kind of mental state than a real feature of American society. Actual social mobility in the US is low and declining and inequality is increasing. For all the national myth-making, it’s better to be born poor in Denmark, or any other Nordic country, than to be born poor in the US…These days, one of the few things uniting the right and left in American politics might be the belief that America is on the brink of disaster…American presidents are usually optimists…Trump is different…Trump does not know how to harness emotions such as hope or optimism. – Sophie Mcbain, Feb 2019

Many Westerners mistakenly believe that all observant Muslims are fundamentalists, because they all fulfill the “pillars of Islam,” which include daily prayer, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. Most Christians think one day a week is enough to pray, and Muslims pray five times a day. They must be fundamentalists! And when Christians hear that Muslims don’t even drink water during Ramadan, they think that’s terrible — a violation of human rights! And when they hear about the animals killed for feasts during the pilgrimage to Mecca, they think that’s an “orgy of blood.” In short, Americans and Europeans are accustomed to seeing religion practiced a certain way, and when they see something else, they call it “fundamentalism.” – Ebrahim Moosa

Americans live in a culture of immediacy that has created new forms of social and historical ignorance and erasure…Time no longer has a long durée; it has to be instantaneous, pulsating with information that barely adds up to a sustained idea. Time is now connected to short-term investments and quick financial gains, defined by the nonstop and frenetic perpetuation of an impoverished culture of global exchange. Time is no longer connected to long-term investment in community, the development of social well-being, and goals that benefit young people and the common good. Time has become a burden more than a condition for contemplation. The flow of money now replaces the flow of thoughtfulness, critical dialogue and informed judgment. This is exacerbated in a culture of immediacy in which instant gratification rules and thoughtful contemplation becomes a thing of the past. Long-term investments have given way to short-term investments, and in doing so, have erased any long-term commitments to valued relationships, young people, intimacy, justice and compassion. Barbarism presents itself in acts, experiences and forms of suffering that vanish from the mainstream media as quickly as they appear. – Henry A Giroux, Feb 2019

“One attack away,” for Muslims in America means many things. It is a reminder that life can radically change in a split second. An ever-looming fear that the state can, again, strip one’s constitutional rights with tenuous or nonexistence evidence. An existential state-of-being that, in three words, perhaps defines what it means to be Muslim in [the US] best: that all the rights the Constitution theoretically extends — from the freedom to practice your faith freely to the freedom of speech — can be chilled or set aside after an attack by a Muslim, or even a non-Muslim. As a result, the collective Muslim American psyche is in a constant state of fear of what may come after an attack. – Khaled A Beydoun, Apr 2018

America has enormous interests in that region. In the past 30 years, we’ve spent more money, sold more weapons, sent more troops, fought more wars, lost more lives, had more economic and political interests at stake and expended more diplomatic capital in the broader Middle East than anywhere else on the globe. And yet recent polling shows that two-thirds of all Americans can’t point to Iraq on a map, just as many don’t know the year that Israel declared its independence; the same number don’t realize that Iran and Pakistan aren’t Arab countries, and about one-half share prejudicial and stereotypical views of Arabs as angry, backward violent fanatics…How did we get into a situation in which we knew so little about a world where we had so much at stake? It all begins with education – or the lack of it…Education, or the lack of it, isn’t the only culprit. Our political culture also contributes to misunderstanding…Our popular culture is at fault as well, as Hollywood grinds out movies and television programs that have negatively stereotyped Arabs and Muslims for almost a half century. – James J Zogby, Oct 2010