WHY FAITH IS BECOMING MORE AND MORE POPULAR

Trump Christians

As always religion is making headlines in all sorts of ways. Just a quick glance at the news and you will find a myriad of stories and scandals, all involving faith at their very heart. Here are just a few recent examples of faith in action across the globe.

In America evangelical Christians are feeling victorious now that they finally have their conservative majority on the Supreme Court, thanks to the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh. And with Trump in power Christians are smiling even more because finally, after eight long torturous years under Obama, they can say “Merry Christmas” again. Praise Jesus indeed. And if you want to know how serious this situation can get then look back to December 2016 when in Perth, Australia, a Muslim woman was subjected to a brutal verbal and physical attack after a man said “Merry Christmas” to her but she replied with “Happy holidays.” Local police investigated reports that the man stole the woman’s headscarf after the incident, which saw him smash a broken beer bottle over the back of her neck and throw rocks at her. And a happy new year to you too.

Something Trump may not be happy about is the fact that modern-day witches are planning a ritual to hex his recently appointed Supreme Court justice. Dozens of these witches say they plan to gather in New York later this month to hex Kavanaugh, who was sworn in to the nation’s highest court recently despite facing several allegations of sexual misconduct. Dakota Bracciale, a Brooklyn-based witch who is organizing the October 20th event, said the witches see the hex as a radical act of resistance that continues witchcraft’s long history as a refuge and weapon for the “oppressed, downtrodden and marginalized.” She has also said that “Witchcraft has been used throughout history as a tool and ally for people on the fringes of society who will not ever really get justice through the powers that be. So they have to exact their own justice.”

Moving from witches to fear mongers and everyone’s favourite extremist Muslim preacher Anjem Choudary is to be freed on parole this month. Choudary, leader of the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, is to be given automatic release after serving half of his five-and-a-half-year sentence. His group has inspired a number of Britons to join ISIS. Choudary was jailed in 2016 for “inviting support of a terror group” but is now somehow entitled to automatic parole. The system works, I guess?

Over in Turkey another Muslim preacher, Murat Bayaral, is getting his beard in a major twist. Bayaral recently said men without beards cause “indecent thoughts” in other men because they look like women, which is why all men need to grow beards to show they are clearly male. Speaking on a Turkish TV show he said if a man was mistaken for a woman “you could be possessed by indecent thoughts.” He added that “Men should grow beards. One of the two body parts that separate men from women is the beard…For example, if you see a man with long hair from afar you may think he is a woman if he does not have a beard. Because nowadays women and men dress similarly. God forbid! You could be possessed by indecent thoughts.”

Here in the UK a British man arrested this summer on suspicion of sending racist letters across England urging a “Punish a Muslim Day” and offering points for acts of violence, has pleaded guilty to soliciting murder and 13 other offenses. David Parnham entered his guilty plea at the Central Criminal Court in London. The police said Parnham had waged a two-year campaign of terror since 2016, sending “malicious” letters and “highly offensive” packages to scores of people and organizations. The letters and packages, some with suspicious white substances, were sent to mosques, Muslim members of Parliament, and Queen Elizabeth, among others. The letters urged people to commit violence against Muslims to earn an escalating number of points. Parnham was caught because his DNA and fingerprints were recovered from some of the letters, including one sent to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist on death row for massacring nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

Over in India certain tech companies are asking devotees how much would they pay for a prayer? In the world’s largest democracy many people are embracing apps that allow them to pay for a ritual to be performed on their behalf. In recent years, tens of thousands of Indians have turned to ePuja and other prayer-by-proxy companies, whose smartphone apps and websites make summoning a godly intercession as easy as ordering a pizza. Another such company, Shubhpuja, has marketed itself as a way to “connect to God in one click.” The offer appeals to Hindus in India and abroad who do not have the time, money, or physical ability to travel to the temple with the best reputation for resolving their particular problem. Just select a puja and a temple, pay a fee, and the company gets a priest to perform the ritual. Shubhpuja even allows customers to Skype into rituals as they’re being performed. ePuja has since facilitated about 50,000 pujas for customers in over 60 countries, with one of the most common requests being asking for help to secure a marriage. And who says romance is dead?

Staying in India, the Hindu nationalist-led state of Uttar Pradesh is changing the Muslim name of the Indian city of Allahabad to Prayagraj. The new name harks back to the city’s ancient appellation, Prayag, before it was changed by Mughal-era rulers in the late 16th century. Prayag in Sanskrit means a place for sacrifice, in reference to the Hindu belief that the creator of the universe, Brahma, made his first offering at the area in the city where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet. The Uttar Pradesh health minister, Siddharth Nath Singh, told local media “The city used to be known as Prayagraj since the beginning. To those who are opposing the decision, how would you feel if the name your parents gave you was to be changed?” Changing Allahabad’s name has been a longstanding demand of Hindu nationalist groups in India which regard the three centuries in which huge areas of the subcontinent were ruled by Mughal dynasties as a period of foreign occupation.

Meanwhile, over in China the authorities are still locking up and detaining hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims in internment camps, in a systematic attempt to erase them and their culture. Muslims in Palestine are also suffering in similar ways, as they have been for several decades now. Six Palestinians were recently shot dead by Israeli forces, not that you would know anything about this as the news lately has been focusing heavily on the horrific murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to the Turkish government. As a quick side note, since when have the powers that be in the west so readily believed the words of the Turkish authorities? Anyway, if Khashoggi was indeed tortured, murdered, and dismembered by the Saudis, as suggested by the Turks, then the Saudis can add his name to the list of at least 17 Yemenis who were killed in a recent Saudi-led airstrike. And that is just the murder tally we know of for this week. It does seem like Western patience with the oil-rich desert kingdom is starting to wear thin.

Because Khashoggi was allegedly murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey, the incident has only increased tensions between the Turkish leader President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the defacto leader of Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This recent dispute pits the two staunch, headstrong nationalists against each other, both of whom have ambitions to reshape their regions. Whilst both leaders sit in opposite ideological camps, one thing they share in common is a history of refusing to back down from a fight. Steven A Cook, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies both countries said “These are two people who each think he is the most important person in the Muslim world…Ego is a factor on both sides.”

Trump Pastor

Back in America Trump welcomed the recently freed US pastor Andrew Brunson to the White House, hours after he arrived in Washington back home from Turkey following two years in detention. The 50-year-old evangelical pastor was convicted of terror-related charges and sentenced to over three years in jail. But he was immediately freed, taking into account the time already served and good conduct during the trial. Brunson thanked Trump, saying “you really fought for us.” In the White House the pastor asked Trump if he could pray for him, Trump replied “Well, I need it probably more than anyone else in this room, so that would be very nice, thank you.” The pastor then kneeled and placed a hand on Trump’s shoulder. As Trump bowed his head the pastor asked God to “give him supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for Him. I ask that You give him wisdom in how to lead this country into righteousness. I ask that You give him perseverance, and endurance and courage to stand for truth.” The best of luck with that. The American pastor was unwittingly caught up in a geopolitical fight between the US and Turkey, and his release was seen as a good sign of easing tensions between the two countries.

In other faith related news, the Catholic sex abuse scandal finally kind of takes its first major scalp, that of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the head of the Archdiocese of Washington, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis. Wuerl submitted his letter of resignation three years ago, when he turned 75, as is customary for bishops. But in September Wuerl travelled to Rome to urge the Pope to finally accept it because of growing accusations over his role in handling sex abuse allegations in the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis has also given an explanation as to why these sex scandals are occurring throughout the Church. He said recently the devil is alive and well and working overtime to undermine the Church. In fact, the Pope is so convinced that Satan is to blame for the sex abuse crisis and deep divisions racking the Church, that he has asked Catholics around the world to recite a special prayer every day in October to try to beat him back. Since he was elected in 2013 Francis has made it clear that he believes the devil to be real. In a document in April on holiness in the modern world, Francis mentioned the devil more than a dozen times, calling him “the malign one, the great accuser.” He went on to say that “We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea. This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable.”

As you would expect these words caused quite a stir, even among Catholics such as Paul Horan, an assistant professor at Trinity College Dublin, who reacted as follows:

The suggestion that Satan is responsible and that exorcisms need to occur to rid the church of the wickedness of child abuse is an outrageous act of desperation by church leaders running scared and out of ideas in the 21st century where people are better educated and can think for themselves without fear of rancour from the church! The Devil isn’t responsible for clerical child abuse. Wicked evil clerics are. Satan didn’t do any of this and neither did he request that it happen…I wouldn’t be surprised if I get excommunicated for expressing such blasphemies. – Paul Horan

Speaking of Satan, in America in August Satanists turned out to cheer the unveiling of a bronze statue dedicated to a goat-headed winged creature called Baphomet in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Satanic Temple organisation arranged the rally outside the Arkansas State Capitol building to protest a Ten Commandments monument already on the grounds. Although the eight-and-a-half foot tall icon was only allowed to be on display temporarily, Satanists argued they should be allowed to erect the winged goat effigy on a permanent basis under freedom of religion rights outlined in the US constitution.

There are so many other stories that could be mentioned, such as Israelis getting a little too excited because the Biblical prophecy of a pure red heifer being born has suddenly happened, signalling the end of days. And there has been much debate about religious freedom versus personal freedom, all in regards to a gay couple asking a Christian bakery to make them a pro-gay cake featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street, both of whom are not gay themselves. The bakery refused to bake the cake and much legal chaos has since ensued.

What these and many other ongoing stories illustrate is that belief, the way it influences people and the countries they inhabit, is fundamental in explaining who we are and where we came from. After all, it is in deciding how we live with the gods that we also decide how we live with each other.

However, despite all the religious goings on all over the world, there are still plenty of voices out there that see it as something antiquated and on the way out. Case in point is Bill Maher who recently on his TV show Real Time With Bill Maher preached the following eulogy:

You can add to this recent figures that show the Church of England being in steep decline. According to the latest data from the British Social Attitudes survey, released last month, the proportion of the population identifying as C of E has fallen to a record low of just 14%. Among adults under the age of 24 it is an alarmingly low 2%. In contrast a majority of the British population say they have no religion. According to David Voas, professor of social science at University College London and co-director of British Religion in Numbers, there are many ways of defining religious affiliation. “But, very clearly, we’re at a point where, under any definition, a minority of the population – in practice, single figures – is Anglican. There can no longer be a majoritarian argument for an established church.” We shall see if this is the beginning of the end for the happy union between Protestant church and English state.

Whilst I get where people like Maher are coming from on the decline of religion, the numbers worldwide just do not support such views. In a recent newspaper article Neil MacGregor, author of the brilliant new book Living With The Gods: On Beliefs And Peoples, made the following observation:

Fifty years ago, religion was on the retreat as science advanced. Now it is centre stage of global politics…Belief is back. Around the world, religion is once again politically centre stage. It is a development that seems to surprise and bewilder, indeed often to anger, the agnostic, prosperous west. – Neil MacGregor

Journalist Caroline Moorehead, in reviewing MacGregor’s book, made a similar point about how religion and religious practice seems to be increasing across the globe:

Far from shrinking away, organised religion appears to be spreading. In Japan, one of the most secular countries in the world, young pregnant women are once again choosing to wear specially propitious sashes and taking offerings to the temples, in the name of children they have lost or aborted. In India, the numbers of Hindu pilgrims attending the Kumbh Mela festival to celebrate the virtues of detachment and compassion have now reached 100 million, making it the largest religious event in the world. Faith is providing cohesion and reassurance. – Caroline Moorehead

As though further proof were needed, please find below selected quotes from a very interesting article that has various facts and figures to counteract the views of naysayers like Maher, and instead back up the views of yaysayers like MacGregor and Moorehead. Enjoy!

Religion Guardian

Religion: Why Faith Is Becoming More And More Popular

Harriet Sherwood, 27 Aug 2018, theguardian.com

If you think religion belongs to the past and we live in a new age of reason, you need to check out the facts: 84% of the world’s population identifies with a religious group. Members of this demographic are generally younger and produce more children than those who have no religious affiliation, so the world is getting more religious, not less – although there are significant geographical variations. According to 2015 figures, Christians form the biggest religious group by some margin, with 2.3 billion adherents or 31.2% of the total world population of 7.3 billion. Next come Muslims (1.8 billion, or 24.1%), Hindus (1.1 billion, or 15.1%) and Buddhists (500 million, or 6.9%).

Which religions are growing, and where?

The short answer is religion is on the wane in western Europe and North America, and it’s growing everywhere else…Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world – more than twice as fast as the overall global population. Between 2015 and 2060, the world’s inhabitants are expected to increase by 32%, but the Muslim population is forecast to grow by 70%. And even though Christians will also outgrow the general population over that period, with an increase of 34% forecast mainly thanks to population growth in sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is likely to lose its top spot in the world religion league table to Islam by the middle of this century.

It’s mainly down to births and deaths, rather than religious conversion. Muslim women have an average of 2.9 children, significantly above the average of all non-Muslims at 2.2. And while Christian women have an overall birth rate of 2.6, it’s lower in Europe where Christian deaths outnumbered births by nearly 6 million between 2010 and 2015. In recent years, Christians have had a disproportionately large share of the world’s deaths (37%).

But 23% of American Muslims say they are converts to the faith, and in recent years there has been growing anecdotal evidence of Muslim refugees converting to Christianity in Europe.

What religions are oldest and are there any new ones?

The oldest religion in the world is considered to be Hinduism, which dates back to about 7,000 BCE. Judaism is the next oldest, dating from about 2,000 BCE, followed by Zoroastrianism, officially founded in Persia in the 6th century BCE but its roots are thought to date back to 1,500 BCE. Shinto, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism and Taoism bunch together around 500-700 BCE. Then along came Christianity, followed about 600 years later by Islam.

Some might argue that the newest religion is no religion, although non-believers have been around as long as humans. But periodically new religious movements spring up, such as Kopimism, an internet religion, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism (officially recognised by the New Zealand government but not the Dutch), and Terasem, a transreligion that believes death is optional and God is technological.

In 2016, the Temple of the Jedi Order, members of which follow the tenets of the faith central to the Star Wars films, failed in its effort to be recognised as a religious organisation under UK charity law. In the last two censuses, Jedi has been the most popular alternative religion with more than 390,000 people (0.7% of the population) describing themselves as Jedi Knights on the 2001 census. By 2011, numbers had dropped sharply, but there were still 176,632 people who told the government they were Jedi Knights.

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BEING MERCILESS IS A VIRTUE IN AMERICA

Brett

Once again I have been casting my subjective eye over the cultural landscape, a landscape that is always changing in ways one can never imagine. For some 2 years now the main news story worldwide was Donald Trump. However, for the past few weeks the biggest news story in America has been focused not on Trump but instead on Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh is Trump’s second pick to be a justice to reside on the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States of America. Neil Gorsuch was his first.

Close to the time of writing, the Senate confirmed 53 year old Kavanaugh as the 114th Supreme Court justice by a vote of 50 to 48, one of the narrowest margins in Senate history. 50 is actually the lowest number of votes for a Supreme Court justice ever, but it is also the most yeses Kavanaugh has probably ever heard in his life (thanks to Saturday Night Live for that joke). And this all came after arguably the most bitterly partisan political and cultural battle in modern American history. So divisive has this confirmation battle been that it seems to have touched all aspects of American society, as well as generating headlines all over the rest of the globe.

But why all this fuss? It is due to the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh who has multiple allegations of sexual misconduct placed against him, notably from Dr Christine Blasey Ford. I will spare you the details of these allegations as much has already been written on this subject. I am more interested in the broader impact of this whole saga, and just how wide-ranging various reactions have been.

To the delight of the Republican party Kavanaugh did not back down in the face of all of these accusations. On the contrary, in a snarling refrain in front of a Congress committee that must seem all-too-familiar to victims of sexual assault, Kavanaugh angrily insisted “you’ll never get me to quit.” So strange was his performance that the satirical TV show Saturday Night Live got Hollywood star Matt Damon to play the role of Kavanaugh in the opening sketch of the first episode of their new season.

Dr Ford also gave her testimony to the same Senate judiciary committee, testifying against Kavanaugh. Whilst the entire day of testimony made for compelling TV viewing, Republicans could not hide the dire spectacle of 11 white men sitting in judgment over one clearly sincere white woman. The chairman was Chuck Grassley, an 85 year old from Iowa. Orrin Hatch, an 84 year old from Utah, described Ford as an “attractive” and “pleasing” witness (not creepy at all). Despite this, so momentous was her credible and emotional performance that Time magazine decide to put Dr Ford and her powerful words on their prestigious front cover:

Time Ford Cover

By now the fault lines in America were all too clear for all to see. Divisions were there not just in political terms, but also in terms of gender, and they were getting wider and deeper. The divided rhetoric on all sides had curdled to such a nasty and pungent degree that one could easily think things could not possibly get any worse. And then along comes Trump and decides to mock Dr Ford and her testimony in front of thousands of his supporters. And much laughter ensued. My own reaction to seeing the so called most powerful person on the planet do such a thing was stomach churning. This is not the first time Trump has cruelly mocked someone, but this time it felt a little colder and crueller than previous occasions. The comedian Sarah Silverman responded to the mocking by Trump by saying:

He’s not even worth it. He is a void. He’s unwell, he’s building an incredible case for an insanity plea. – Sarah Silverman

Fellow comedian Jim Jefferies also joined the debate by making a rather relevant point about the legal hypocrisy surrounding how the Republicans are reacting to all this:

Conservatives need to make their minds up. If a Mexican gets busted for an ounce of weed, Republicans think “a threat to the community.” But when a prep school kid is accused of sexual assault, suddenly they’re all about “due process.” Which is it? – Jim Jefferies

As seems to be the occurrence now in such matters, weird and wonderful conspiracy theories have made their way on to social media. My favourite occurred on Friday when Trump, making a shameful moment in American history that bit more shameful, tweeted that the anti-Kavanaugh protesters on Capitol Hill were all “paid for by Soros,” repeating a common conspiracy-theory surrounding George Soros, the billionaire Holocaust-survivor and financier, a claim that is obviously false.

Say what you like about the Republican party machine but they are ruthless in their endeavours, in this case getting their man on to the Supreme Court. This ruthless streak is captured so poetically by the cartoonist Mr Fish:

The Partys Over

Whilst this particular cartoon was rather brutal in making its point, it was another cartoon that caused a much larger stir. There is a line that political cartoons rarely cross, and that is you do not parody or lampoon the children of political figures if they are minors, much in the same way that White House correspondents generally do not write about the personal lives of underage members of the first family. However, veteran cartoonist Chris Britt decided to cross that line with the following image:

Daughter Cartoon

The cartoon depicts 10-year-old Liza Kavanaugh praying to God about her father. She is kneeling by her bedside and saying “Dear God, forgive my angry, lying, alcoholic father for sexually assaulting Dr Ford.” The cartoon parodies the opening statement by Kavanaugh during his committee appearance last week, where he emotionally recounted that his daughter had said to her mother that “we should pray for the woman,” referring to Dr Ford.

Some have argued that Kavanaugh should not be the most important news story in the States. In a newspaper interview satirist Bill Maher suggested that perhaps it should be the environment, but then offered reasons as to why it is not:

When was the last time anyone discussed the environment? It gets lost, because Trump sets off 100 bombs a week and we chase every one of them. Meanwhile, slowly we become inhabitants of a less and less inhabitable planet. That problem didn’t go away just because we are interested in what happened to Brett Kavanaugh in high school. There are so many issues like that. – Bill Maher

And recently on his TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, there was a brief discussion about another rather important news story, one involving the fact that Trump and his father managed to con their way out of paying half a billion dollars in inheritance tax to the American government. Maher asked his panel of guests why this particular story wasn’t as big of an issue as perhaps it should be. No real answer was given by anyone. However, one of the guests did make the following point regarding the New York Times report on the Trump family fortune:

We’ve always known this president is a conman, right, and so he engaged in tax planning but he also engaged in tax fraud. That was in the New York Times article, deliberate tax fraud. I think the big takeaway from the New York Times story is what a terrible businessperson Donald Trump actually is. And here’s what I mean by that. This is a guy that we know was born on third base and the idiot, instead of stealing home, stole second, right. This is a guy who figured out how to lose everything his father gave him, and then asked for a bail out. – David Jolly, former congressman for Florida

The Kavanaugh saga has already done many things in American society, one of the main things being is causing further divisions. With the recent confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, and followed soon by the midterm elections, there is no doubt this polarization will only increase in the days and weeks ahead. Guardian journalist David Smith described just some of the ways these divisions manifest themselves:

The only thing everyone agrees on is that the division runs deep – and no one is quite sure where it is heading…At almost every turn, the battle lines are drawn. Black against white, college-educated against not, “expert” against “deplorable”, hipster against hunter, Hollywood against heartland, liberal against conservative, pro-choice against pro-life, secular against Christian, urban against rural, woman against man, young against old, citizens of nowhere against citizens of somewhere…Duck Dynasty vs Modern Family. – David Smith

Another line of division seems to be around who is the actual victim and who is the assailant. President Trump, whilst standing on the White House lawn, told reporters that the reaction to the allegations of sexual assault and other misconduct against Kavanaugh now makes it a dangerous time for men:

It is a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something that you may not be guilty of. This is a very, very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court justice. It really does. You could be somebody that was perfect your entire life and somebody could accuse you of something. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a woman, as everybody says. But somebody could accuse you of something and you’re automatically guilty. But in this realm you are truly guilty until proven innocent. That’s one of the very, very bad things that’s taking place right now. – President Trump

Whilst this comment was strange enough (straight white male privilege still rules the world), something even stranger followed: Democratic supporter Bill Maher kind of agreed with Trump, his arch-nemesis, again on his show Real Time. Maher asked guests the following conundrum:

I do think that when Trump said “It’s a very scary time for young men…” Yes, let’s get out the world’s smallest violin but, wait, let me just ask a question first, okay. It does seem like things have morphed from ‘listen to any woman who says she’s been wronged,’ which is the right thing to do, to ‘automatically believe.’ That’s what’s scary. – Bill Maher

So even bleeding heart liberals are getting confused as to where the battle lines are. And such is the wide social impact of this news story that it has even crossed over religious boundaries and is now directly affecting Muslims, more specifically one in particular. Imam Zaid Shakir is the Muslim-American co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California (Shaykh Hamza Yusuf is the other co-founder). Shakir had to delete a 1,300 word Facebook post after receiving a backlash for suggesting sharia law should be applied in judging if Dr Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh are credible. He began by saying “I do not support the appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. My position, however, is based neither on the accusations nor the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.” The Imam went on to say he did not support Kavanaugh because he believes “he lied under oath” and is “too politically partisan to sit on the Supreme Court.”

But then Shakir went on to say that he believes Ford’s allegations “cannot be used as evidence against Judge Kavanaugh.” He based his reasoning on “Muslim teachings” from the Qur’an, citing verse 24:4 which says “Those who bring charges of sexual improprieties against chaste women, then fail to come forth with four corroborating witnesses, lash them eighty times and never again accept their testimony. Such are truly corrupt.”

He also cited following verses which warn against alleging accusations without witnesses and claim those who do so “are liars in the sight of God.”

“The honor these verses are designed to protect is real, as are the condemnations they issue, as well as the punishments they threaten,” Shakir wrote. Echoing the aforementioned views of Trump and Maher, Shakir added “If anyone can randomly produce vile accusations against anyone they please, and the only standard assessing the veracity of those accusations is our subjective feeling concerning the credibility of the accuser or the accused, none of us would be safe against the impugnment of his or her honor.”

The post was later deleted after backlash but Shakir followed-up in an additional post where he claimed he deleted the original because he “misused verses from the Qur’an to support an argument that would have been more correctly supported by another verse” and because “some people, especially sisters, have been harmed and I am not in the business of harming people.”

In another follow-up post he walked back his claim that Dr Ford needed four witnesses and said “anyone accusing someone of sexual violence, such as attempted rape, need not bring forth four witnesses to corroborate their claim. Furthermore, they are clear of any crime or sin unless after a proper investigation the accuser is proven to have lied.”

“While I apologize for that lack of clarity and any hurt it may have caused, I do warn against diminishing the power of patience and prayer,” he added. “There is always more that can be said about any issue, but I will take my own advice and shut up, pray, and be patient with Allah’s decree.”

The battle over Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is over and the Republicans have won, they now have their long desired conservative majority on the Court. But, mark my words, this whole affair involving Kavanaugh and Dr Ford is far from over. The political, legal, and cultural ramifications will continue to echo throughout American society for years to come. I leave you with selected quotes from an article written by the British comedian Shappi Khorsandi, an article where she speaks not just about Trump and Kavanaugh but also about the winners of the recent Nobel Peace Prize.


Donald Trump Has Turned America Into A Place Where Victims Are Mocked And Being Merciless Is A Virtue

Shappi Khorsandi, 06 Oct 2018, independent.co.uk

Trump could not have mocked someone’s account of sexual abuse in the first week of his candidacy. He and the culture he represents have built up to this and they are still building.

I was delighted to hear that the Nobel Peace Prize has gone to two people fighting to end sexual violence rather than to a golf enthusiast with bog roll on his shoes who likes to publicly mock those who say they are victims of sexual violence. Restores faith, y’know?

Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad were selected over Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un to win this year’s prize “for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict”. Mukwege is a gynaecologist who, despite threats to his own life, has looked after thousands of people who have been sexually assaulted in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Murad is a 25-year-old Yazidi woman who was kidnapped by Islamic State militants and held as a sex slave.

Hold on, I need to repeat what happened because I don’t think it’s sunk in even with myself fully yet. The president of the United States of America stood on a podium, at a rally, and mocked a woman for telling her story of being sexually assaulted and everybody laughed and applauded. There isn’t a Nobel Prize for Utterly Sordid Bastardry so how he got a nomination in the first place is puzzling. Trump could not have mocked someone’s account of sexual abuse in the first week of his candidacy. He and the culture he represents have built up to this and they are still building.

In the Trump culture, being merciless has become a virtue. Those who are brave enough to tell their stories of abuse are “hysterical”. Speaking up against abuse and atrocities is seen as a weakness and those who do this must be mocked and humiliated.

THOSE CRAZY POOR MIDDLE EASTERNERS

Trump Red Nose.jpg

There is a compulsion that burns inside of me to share everything I read, especially if what I read is exceptionally well-written. Lately this compulsion has been burning very brightly indeed, mainly because I have been reading a plethora of brilliantly well-written articles on all sorts of subject matters. In that note please find below quotes from an assortment of said articles.

We have the comedian Dara Ó Briain on why right wing comics should make more jokes about Muslims, journalist Nesrine Malik on the increasing fabrication of media stories about Muslims, journalist Thomas Friedman on those crazy poor Middle Easterners, journalist Kenan Malik on the three-decades-long legacy of Salman Rushdie and his Satanic verses, and finally we have author David Macaray on why Trump (yes, him again) is exactly and everything we deserve. So good is this last article that it is presented in full.

Yes, I know, this seems like a lot but trust me, each article is worth reading, especially in full. As always links to the original articles are presented below. Enjoy!


Dara Ó Briain On Why Comedians Are Reluctant To Do Mock The Week

Steven McIntosh, 28 Sep 2018, bbc.co.uk

While there’s no shortage of aspiring stand-ups, one thing which is regularly commented on in the industry is how the overwhelming majority of comedians are left-wing. Lee Hurst and Geoff Norcott are among the few notable exceptions in a landscape where most comedians poke fun at Brexit or the Conservative government. “It’s a weird one,” Ó Briain says. “Right-wing comedy tends not to work so well just because there’s an element of what’s punching up and what’s punching down…it’s easier to make jokes when you’re attacking something that’s in power rather than attacking down. Any time somebody [on the right] complains about this, the answer is, go and write some jokes. For a start, you’re the one who believes in a free market, there’s a market there, so go and write some. People go, ‘Oh you don’t make jokes about the Muslims,’ – go for it. Listen, no-one is stopping you from doing all the Muslim jokes you want. You just can’t order me to do the jokes on the topics you want.”


The Thirst For Stories That Vilify Muslims Has Eroded Basic Principles Of Journalism

Nesrine Malik, 11 Sep 2018, newstatesman.com

There are times when the Overton Window shifts right before your very eyes. It is bewildering, with the texture of a particular kind of nightmare, where a horrific thing is happening but banality continues around it. You find yourself pointing to it in horror as it creeps away, and simultaneously falling in shock that everyone else is still going about their business. This is what it has been like to live through how Muslims are talked about in the UK. Over the past decade or so, reporting on Muslims has gone from dog-whistling to fearmongering, to complete fabrication without consequences. To observe it doing so has been to watch a race to the bottom of standards violation.


Crazy Poor Middle Easterners

Thomas L Friedman, 04 Sep 2018, nytimes.com

The Middle East could prosper if it would put its past behind it…

I greatly enjoyed the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” because, beyond the many laugh lines, it reminded me of an important point: Rich Asia has gotten really rich — not because it doesn’t have political, tribal, ethnic and religious differences like other regions, but because in more places on more days it learned to set those differences aside and focus on building the real foundations of sustainable wealth: education, trade, infrastructure, human capital and, in the most successful places, the rule of law. Most of Asia became prosperous not by discovering natural resources but by tapping its human resources — men and women — and giving them the tools to realize their potential.

It got me thinking that if someone were to do a similar movie about the Middle East it could be called “Crazy Poor Middle Easterners.” Because, with a few exceptions, this region has never been a bigger mess, had more people fighting over who owns which olive tree, had more cities turned to rubble by rival sects and missed its potential so vastly. The region of the world that should be naturally rich has made itself poor by repeatedly letting the past bury the future and the region that is naturally poor has made itself rich by letting the future bury the past.


The Satanic Verses Sowed The Seeds Of Rifts That Have Grown Ever Wider

Kenan Malik, 29 Sep 2018, theguardian.com

Three decades after Salman Rushdie’s novel ignited Muslim fury and shook the world, we’ve yet to learn the right lessons…Thirty years ago last week, Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie was then perhaps the most celebrated British novelist of his generation. His new novel, five years in the making, had been expected to set the world alight, though not quite in the way that it did…The controversy over The Satanic Verses brought into focus issues that have since become defining problems of the age – the nature of Islam, the meaning of multiculturalism, the boundaries of tolerance in a liberal society and the limits of free speech in a plural world. That, 30 years on, we still blindly wrestle with these issues reveals how little we have learned from the Rushdie affair. And how the lessons we have learned have often been the wrong ones.


Donald Trump Is Everything We Deserve

David Macaray, 28 Sep 2018, counterpunch.org

Besides the grinding, debilitating repetition, the reason I can’t bear to watch professional comedians do their Donald Trump shtick is that the material is so obviously based on the premise that this guy is somehow unworthy of being our president. That his being elected was a monumental goof, a mistake, that we don’t deserve him.

In addition to being insufferably smug and self-congratulatory, that assumption is demonstrably false. If we step back and take an unsentimental, warts-and-all look at ourselves, we realize that Trump is not only worthy of being president, he seems the obvious choice for it, the loathsome destination of an inevitable journey.

Consider: The U.S. is, first and foremost, a nation of consumers. Manufacturers know it, advertisers know it, the Ukrainians know it, and Trump knows it. Indeed, there’s nothing we Americans won’t buy if it’s properly advertised and promoted. And say what you will about Trump, but the man is, first and foremost, a fanatical salesman and promoter.

Consider: We Americans are practical people, which is why we don’t form queues at poetry readings. There’s no shame in that. We simply aren’t a nation of poetry lovers. But we do form queues (often unbelievably long, serpentine queues), beginning at midnight, waiting for the store to open so we can purchase the newest technology. That’s because we’re a nation addicted to buying stuff. And Trump knows how to sell stuff.

Consider: We gush over rich people. We idolize them. But because that realization seems vaguely “un-Christian,” we pretend we don’t. We tell our children that “money isn’t everything,” but we don’t even believe that ourselves. We are in awe of Wall Street because Wall Street is Taj Mahal rich. And Trump is rich.

Consider: We love celebrities, and Trump was a TV celebrity. We love glamour, and the Trumps are glamorous. Wife Melania and daughter Ivanka are exotic creatures. Granted, that is more a testament to cosmetic surgery than the generosity of Mother Nature, but exotic creatures nonetheless. And as much as we pretend to respect “authenticity,” we don’t. Plastic is good.

Consider: Unlike much of the world, we Americans have always despised intellectuals. We pretend we don’t, but we do. We resent cultural snobs, know-it-alls, smarty-pants media types, and “deep thinkers,” and we admire salt-of-the-earth businessmen, self-made moguls, and (counter-intuitively) military officers.

That’s partly because of our native egalitarianism, and partly because we don’t wish to be reminded of our ignorance. We prefer brevity and plain talk to complexity. We embrace slogans (“Make America Great Again”), and avoid nuance, ambiguity, and self-doubt. Arguably, if we don’t count Ronald Reagan, Trump is the most anti-intellectual president since Andrew Jackson.

Consider: We admire conspicuous muscle and power. Accordingly, as long as the combat doesn’t occur on our own soil, we prefer war to peace. We pretend we don’t, but we do. If that weren’t the case, our defense budget wouldn’t be so absurdly bloated, and we wouldn’t have been engaged in all the military adventurism that has defined us since the end of World War II.

Consider: We Americans are a narcissistic people. We pretend we aren’t, but we are. We don’t have to be tied down and water-boarded to confess that we think we’re the greatest country in the world. Not only the greatest country in the world, but very likely the greatest country in the history of the world. If that ain’t narcissism, what is it?

And yet, for all this, we still pretend we don’t deserve Trump? We still pretend to be surprised that we elected a shallow, dishonest, narcissistic bully as our president? As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Mother Night, “We are what we pretend to be. So we must be very careful about what we pretend.”

PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF THE LAST LAUGH

Humour Tribunal

As always, this topsy-turvy world just keeps on getting topsier and turvier. There are so many contradictory things confusing me right now that I don’t know where to begin. As good a place to start as any is the mainly Hindu nation of India which has recently legalised gay sex. Meanwhile, the mainly Muslim nation of Malaysia sentenced two Muslim hijabi lesbians to be lashed for their crimes of passion, only to have the 93 year old Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad say this was too harsh a sentence. In a video posted on his Twitter account Mahathir said the caning “did not reflect the justice or compassion of Islam.” He said since it was the women’s first offence it warranted a lighter sentence such as counselling. “This gives a bad impression of Islam. It is important that we show Islam is not a cruel religion that likes to impose harsh sentences to humiliate others.”

Another example of the world teetering on the collective edge of darkness involves America whose military have now stopped giving some $300 million dollars in aid to Pakistan due to Islamabad’s lack of “decisive actions” in support of American strategy in the region. The US has also stopped all funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the body responsible for Palestinian refugees, and to USAID development and infrastructure projects in the Palestinian Territories. This is Trump’s way of continuing his diplomatic war on the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, in the historical heart and home of Islam, Saudi Arabia, arguably the richest country in the Middle East, continues to use American made weapons against the Muslim population of Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East (for more details on the use of American weapons in Yemen please see the excellent comic What America’s Weapons Are Doing to Yemen).

America might be divesting money from Pakistan, but the Chinese are pouring billions into the Islamic Republic, all in the hope of building a super highway that will reduce shipping times and costs for their mass produced global items. But at the same time the atheist Communist Party of China are detaining more than 1 million ethnic Uighur Muslims, along with other Muslim minorities, within its own borders. And how does China defend such actions? In a move that would have made George Orwell give a wry smile, China claims that the Muslim detainment camps are in fact “educational centres.” It almost seems like Muslims at home bad, Muslims abroad good.

In a similar vein, we have the Syrian town of Idlib, the last anti-government stronghold, bracing itself for a potential genocide by the Assad regime. And then we have our old friends the Saudis who, instead of trying to use their powerful influence to end the conflict, are doing more important things such as arresting a man for having breakfast with a woman. Confusing times indeed.

A final example of this encroaching madness is the political hysteria in Britain currently affecting both major parties. Labour, and their leader Jeremy Corbyn in particular, are being hounded for the alleged anti-Semitism that exists within its ranks. Yet there is nary a media flutter regarding the blatant Islamophobia that exits within the Conservatives. Case in point are recent comments made by the Conservative MP Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary.

In a recent column in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Johnson wrote that while he doesn’t support a burqa ban he does think they are “ridiculous” because they make women look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” Johnson went on to write “If you say that it is weird and bullying to expect women to cover their faces, then I totally agree. I would go further and say that it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes.” He also said that if “a female student turned up at school or at a university lecture looking like a bank robber,” he would ask her to remove her face covering in order to speak to him. He added that humans “must be able to see each other’s faces.”

In case you missed it, there you have a sitting British MP making an intolerant and Islamophobic comment, which goes against his own party’s definition of British values taught in secondary schools up and down the land, values that demand mutual respect for, and tolerance of, those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. And he openly made these comments in a newspaper article. The comedian Zahra Barri responded by saying:

I can’t believe what Boris Johnson said about the burka. If anyone needs to cover their hair and cover their face, it’s Boris Johnson. – Zahra Barri

And I shall for the time being ignore Johnson’s more recent comment where he compared prime minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan (related to Brexit negotiations) to having “wrapped a suicide vest” around Britain and handed the detonator to Brussels.

Boris Burka

Boris Johnson may have said such Islamophobic things but Rowan Atkinson then tried to defend them. The British actor, best known for his portrayals of Mr Bean and Blackadder, said Boris’ comments were a ‘joke.’ Atkinson wrote to The Times newspaper, saying:

As a lifelong beneficiary of the freedom to make jokes about religion, I do think that Boris Johnson’s joke about wearers of the burka resembling letterboxes is a pretty good one. All jokes about religion cause offence, so it’s pointless apologising for them. You should really only apologise for a bad joke. On that basis, no apology is required. – Rowan Atkinson

However, according to journalist Nikesh Shukla, this form of defence leads us all down a dangerous path:

Whether Boris Johnson considers his comment a joke or not, the fact that it is being defended as such sets a dangerous precedent. It makes the comment itself beyond criticism and beyond reproach, because the context around humour is still that if you don’t get the joke, it’s your fault, it’s my free speech to say whatever I want. And that is not what good humour should do. Good humour should punch upwards, never downwards, nor sideways, further pushing people into the margins. If comedy is universal, and funny is funny, a joke should bang every time to everyone. But funny is not always funny. And rather than looking at who’s laughing, look at who isn’t, and why. You might learn something. – Nikesh Shukla, 10 Aug 2018, metro.co.uk

The words of Johnson are just another example of how throughout 2018 the boundaries of satire have been pulled, pushed, extended, contracted, and contorted. Comedy and the limitations we place upon it are being tested like never before. These are confusing times indeed, especially for people who are on a stage, standing in front of a microphone, staring at an audience, trying to tell a joke.

Kathy Trump

So far this year we have seen the quiet return of Kathy Griffin, a comedian who thought her career was over because in 2017 she posted both a video and a photo of herself holding the bloody head of Trump. Both pieces went viral almost immediately and created an uproar as planned. Griffin emotionally apologised for the distress the photo caused, and she was subsequently fired by CNN as a result. But then 2018 saw Griffin slowly return to the limelight, beginning with an appearance on the weekly talk show Real Time With Bill Maher in March, where she seemed to almost take back her initial apology. Her comeback continues when in November she is to be named Comedian of the Year at the first Palm Springs International Comedy Festival.

The #MeToo movement quite rightly slayed the comedian Louis CK, and perhaps more controversially fellow comedian Aziz Ansari, and now former senator Al Franken, who had to resign and did so rather controversially. Whilst the hoopla around Franken and Ansari has died down somewhat, the controversy around Louis CK continues to rage due to his attempt at returning to stand up. Louis received a standing ovation at New York’s illustrious Comedy Cellar when he performed an impromptu gig last month, a gig that has divided fans and critics alike.

And then you have the controversy surrounding comedian Mark Meechan, aka Count Dankula, who made a video of himself training his girlfriend’s pug dog to do a Nazi salute. Meechan was then convicted in a Scottish court of “inciting racial hatred.” The terrifying thing about this conviction is the judge sided with the prosecution who said “context and intent are irrelevant” in a joke. If ever context and intent are relevant then surely it is within something as subjective as a joke. The conviction caused fellow comedian Shappi Khorsandi to make the following rather discerning point:

This sets a frightening precedence for all of us. Anyone who takes offence at something which is meant in jest could eventually have a case to take to court…But it’s not just Count Dankula we are defending, the picture is far bigger than that. We are fighting not for this individual, but for the principle of free speech which right now is being fought for more robustly by the far right than it is by the left. This is a nonpartisan issue. You don’t have to agree with someone to fight for their right to say what they’re saying. Either you believe in free speech or you don’t. – Shappi Khorsandi

The American comedian Michelle Wolf was this year’s comedy speaker at the White House Correspondents Dinner in April. During her 19 minute set the comedian was scathing about Trump’s daughter Ivanka and his press secretary Sarah Sanders, who sat stoned faced throughout. Wolf stunned guests at the prestigious media dinner in Washington with a risqué speech that eviscerated members of Trump’s administration, some of whom were in the room. As expected Fox News hated every second of it, whilst liberals loved every word.

2018 was also the year that Roseanne Barr, 1980s TV show trailblazer, was going to make her big TV comeback. However, Barr, a vocal Trump supporter, ended up being fired after a rather distasteful racist tweet. Whilst Trump supporters were angry about such events, they were even more furious when Samantha Bee, a vocal Trump hater, was not fired for calling Ivanka Trump a “feckless cunt.” For a while there, it looked like Bee might not survive the intense backlash that followed her use of the term to describe the first daughter and White House adviser during a segment about her failure to prevent the president from separating immigrant families at the border. In an interview Bee said “It wasn’t a great experience. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, and I was very regretful that that moment really took away from what I was trying to say with the segment.”

We also have the aforementioned Saudis who are officially threatening jail time for online satirists. 2018 saw the Kingdom pass strict new social media laws targeting dissent, which means anyone caught using online satire to “disrupt public order” faces up to five years in prison and a massive fine. In an announcement published on Twitter earlier this month, the public prosecutor’s office said “Producing and distributing content that ridicules, mocks, provokes and disrupts public order, religious values and public morals through social media…will be considered a cybercrime.” I guess some people really can’t take a joke.

Someone who most definitely has been disrupting the public order for many years is Sacha Baron Cohen. The actor and comedian, famous for creating comedy characters such as Borat and Ali G, returned to our TV screens this year with the 7-part political satire program Who Is America? Perhaps Showtime, the network who created the show, were being a little facetious when, in the run-up to the July premiere, promoted the series as “perhaps the most dangerous show in the history of television.” The show ended up receiving mainly mixed reviews across the board.

In one of the episodes there is a sketch where Cohen interviews Roy Moore, the former US Senate candidate from Alabama. In the sketch Cohen, disguised as Israeli anti-terrorism expert Erran Morad, demonstrated what he said was a new device invented by the Israeli army for detecting paedophiles. The device beeped whenever it was held close to Moore. After it beeped several times Moore walked out of the interview. And just when you thought this could not get any stranger, Moore is now suing Cohen. A $95 million lawsuit has been filed in the federal court of Washington DC by Moore, accusing Cohen of defamation for duping Moore into appearing on the show. Moore has also brought defamation claims against Showtime and its parent, CBS Corp, over the sketch that clearly portrayed him as a sex offender. The lawsuit said the show mocked him with a “false and fraudulent portrayal” that harmed Moore’s reputation and caused “severe emotional distress” to his family. I guess some people really can’t take a joke.

However, the biggest pusher of comedic boundaries this year has to be everyone’s favourite politician Donald Trump, a man who continues to thwart national and international security in order to ease his own personal insecurities. On numerous occasions White House officials have explained away many a Trump comment by simply saying that he was “just joking.” It is ironic that a man who once claimed to have the “best words” has so many of his presidential remarks chalked up to being just jokes. In a brilliant article columnist Neil J Simon explains in detail the dangers of using the “just joking” justification:

Perhaps it’s all just shrewd politics. Trump gets to say outrageous things that please (and stoke) his base while White House staffers clean up the mess with the press by brushing it all off as simply the president ribbing his audience. That probably works for surviving a news cycle. But ultimately it’s a strategy that diminishes the presidency and imperils America’s standing with the world. Or maybe this is just another one of the privileges of white male heterosexuality – that nothing you say can be held against you, that there is no accountability for your words. Either way, a White House staff routinely engaged in dismissing the president’s words as only jokes isn’t helping Trump get out of uncomfortable scrapes. They are telling the American people over and over again not to take this president seriously. It’s one thing for Americans – not to mention leaders of other nations – to view Trump as a buffoon on their own assessment. But it’s an entirely different matter for an administration to so frequently present its own president as a jokester whose words don’t matter, a shocking development in the history of the American presidency. If, as it has been said, there is truth in all humor, the truth of Trump’s humor is all too clear. He is a racist. He is a demagogue. He is no respecter of persons, of principles or of democratic institutions. – Neil J Simon, 05 May 2018, huffingtonpost.com

Serena Cartoon

Despite all these incidents (and many more that I simply do not have time to mention in any detail, such as the racist Serena Williams cartoon in the Australian newspaper the Herald Sun, or the conviction of comedy legend Bill Cosby of sexual assault and his upcoming sentencing, or the free speech discussions related to the Trump and Sadiq Khan blimps that flew over London, or the savage satire of Spike Lee’s movie BlacKkKlansman) comedy and satire still have power to influence and change, something that satirist Bill Maher recognised in his show Real Time With Bill Maher recently. In his closing monologue Maher called for the return of former senator Al Franken, himself a comedian and satirist, back to the political limelight to take on Trump using the power of satire:

We need Democrats to keep a laser focus on the one issue that really matters: finding out what is Trump’s kryptonite. I think it’s ridicule. The one thing that gets under his skin, besides red dye number two, is being made fun of. Remember how he seethed when Obama made fun of him at the Correspondents Dinner? The hair on the back of his neck stood up, which was fascinating to watch since it’s been transplanted to the front of his head. We need someone who can shred Trump like a stand up takes down a heckler, because Trump is a heckler, and to fight him we need a comedian. – Bill Maher, 07 Sep 2018

He ends the monologue by adding that:

It’s time to get Al off the bench so he can come back to doing what he does better than any other Democrat: taking down right-wing blowhards. I want to see Al Franken debate Donald Trump. And, by the way, so do you. – Bill Maher, 07 Sep 2018

Alongside the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher, let us not forget all the other shows out there all trying their best to keep Trump and his cohorts in check, shows such as (big deep breath): Jimmy Kimmel Live! With Jimmy Kimmel, Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show With James Corden, Full Frontal With Samantha Bee, Conan With Conan O’Brien, I Love You America With Sarah Silverman, The Break With Michelle Wolf, The Opposition With Jordan Klepper, The Jim Jefferies Show With Jim Jefferies, Saturday Night Live, Unspun With Matt Forde, The Rundown With Robin Thede, and the upcoming show Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj. And that is just a list of TV shows, I am not even going to begin listing the dozens of successful online podcasts that regularly go after Trump.

The reason why I find myself looking so closely at the limitations of comedy is because of a documentary called The Last Laugh by Ferne Pearlstein. I saw this brilliant documentary only a few weeks ago and found it very thought provoking. The notion of what is acceptable for ridicule (which, let’s face it, will always be based on our own subjective moral values) is the subject matter of The Last Laugh. Can we make jokes about the Nazis and the Holocaust? Should we? Despite being made in 2016 it still fits in perfectly with all the ongoing discussions we have around the limits of satire. It opens with a quote from German novelist Heinrich Mann:

Whoever has cried enough, laughs. – Heinrich Mann

This statement on the strange pairing of tears and laughter is the focus of the documentary, which cuts between scenes with Los Angeles Holocaust survivor Renee Firestone and interviews with well-known comedians such as Mel Brooks, Jeff Ross, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner, Judy Gold, and others. It is well worth watching if you get a chance. Here are some of my favourite quotes from this brilliant documentary. Enjoy!

The Last Laugh

Comedy puts light on to darkness, and darkness can’t live where there’s light. So that’s why it’s important to talk about things that are taboo, because otherwise they just stay in this dark place and become dangerous. – Sarah Silverman

I speak about the Holocaust all the time, but I enjoy life. I am so happy that I have three great grandchildren. Could Hitler imagine that I will survive and have three great grandchildren? I mean, that’s my revenge. – Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor

Humour is the weapon of the weak. Think about the things that we make jokes about. We make jokes about our bosses, we make jokes about death. When I was in the army we made jokes about our commanders. Our commanders didn’t need to make jokes about us. They just order us to do whatever they wanted us to do. – Etgar Keret

A great joke really does trump all rules. But it’s got to be a great joke. And the higher the stakes, the higher the standard for how good the joke has to be. A joke about a mother in law can be only slightly good and pass muster. But a joke about this stuff, such as the Nazis and the Holocaust, has to be like, you know, you are ashamed that you laughed at it but you are laughing because you can’t help yourself. – Harry Shearer

You can’t control how your joke will be inferred. I had a friend, Tom Janice, who would call it mouth-full-of-blood-laughs, where they’re laughing at the wrong thing. And that’s hard but it’s just no longer yours. I talked about the Holocaust and I said “the alleged Holocaust” and that’s a joke about Holocaust deniers. And a sophisticated audience would understand that and maybe a less sophisticated audience may not. I’m not saying that I’m sophisticated. But what are the dangers of that? That maybe a group of people will think that the Holocaust didn’t happen? I think that’s worth the risk? I think it’s worth the risk. – Sarah Silverman

We have greed and guilt and wars and genocides, and there is nothing we can do about it. I’ve read God’s answers, I’ve read Spinoza’s answers. There’s no answer. They’re both dead! And so the only way I can deal with the reality of it, the reality of existence, is to laugh at it. – Shalom Auslander

When I was about 18 years old my father came home from a business trip. And out of this box comes this most beautiful bathing suit. It had a satin shiny finish, the most beautiful floral print. And I remember parading around in this bathing suit around the swimming pool. And the boys whistled at me! And when they [the Nazis] came and escorted us out of the home, I put this bathing suit under my dress. I put it on, I thought nobody will know. And that’s how I left, and that’s how I arrived to Auschwitz. And we were supposed to get undressed to take a shower, and all of a sudden I felt heat on my face. One of the Nazi soldiers slapped me. I started to cry and I peeled this bathing suit off my body, I folded it very neatly, and I left it on the pile of my clothing. And with that bathing suit I didn’t only leave those memories, I also left my family, my friends, my neighbours, and six million Jews behind. So this bathing suit is always on my mind. – Renee Firestone, a Holocaust survivor

It was very much the notion that we made it, everyone who made it was part of this survivor community, and the obligation was to live well, love, eat well, have fun, get loaded at Bar Mitzvahs and weddings, and enjoy life. Because the true sin was if you didn’t, after that experience, then it was a waste and then Hitler would have had the last laugh. – Roz Weinman

Comics have a conscience of the people and they are allowed a wide berth of activity in every direction. Comics have to tell us who we are, where we are, even if it’s in bad taste. – Mel Brooks

EID IS ALL ABOUT PAYING IT FORWARD

Hajj Hands

We are nearing the end of the Islamic holy month of Dhul-Hijjah, the month of Hajj, in the Muslim year of 1439. In about nine days time, depending upon the sighting of the new moon, we will move into another Islamic holy month, Muharram, which will be the first month of year 1440 of the Islamic calendar.

The annual pilgrimage of Hajj is now over and most of the two-million-plus visitors to the holy land in Saudi Arabia will have gone back home, hoping they are spiritually reborn. With Hajj and the following Eid-Al-Adha celebrations still fresh in my mind, I thought it would be good to share a few of the better related articles I have recently come across. The three short articles chosen are written from a positive, honest, and personal experience, and they are presented below in full. I hope they provide a new and fresh insight into what Hajj and Eid mean to us Muslims.

I also came across a few interesting photo blogs from the Sunday Express, the Birmingham Mail, the Associated Press, and the UAE National. Some of the pictures are just simply breath-taking. If you get a chance please have a look. As always, enjoy!


Hajj Aqsa

A Palestinian man throws his child in the air following morning prayers marking the first day of Eid-Al-Adha celebrations, on the compound known to Muslims as Al-Haram-Al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.


What All Americans Can Learn From Hajj

The Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca offers a model of unity in a culture divided by tribalism.

Tasmiha Khan, 15 Aug 2018, salon.com

Identity is what makes up the fabric of our communities, and connects us to our neighbors. It gives us a sense of belonging and security. But there’s a flip side: in the process of interacting with only those who are like us, we can alienate ourselves from greater society, sticking with our so-called “tribe.” In the past, tribalism has taken many forms: we’ve looked down upon caste systems. We’ve deepened the divide between the rich and the poor. As much progress as we like to think we’ve made, if you look around us there are also many degrees of separation. Are you Democratic or Republican? Suburban or rural? College graduate or drop-out? Tribalism is real and it is taking place in our own metaphorical backyards, under the guise of labels we don’t even feel comfortable discussing. Fortunately, we have moments such as the Hajj season to teach us how to come together despite our differences.

On a personal level, Hajj helps me situate myself in this world. As a Muslim American woman who chooses to observe the rules and regulations of hijab — literally, the veil — people often mistake me for foreign, although I was born here in the United States. With Ramadan passing and now Dhul-Hijjah, I look to my faith, Islam, to reflect and find meaning of my footing in this world for both myself and those around me.

Dhul-Hijjah marks the last month of the Islamic lunar year where one of the major pillars of Islam take place known as the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, that occurs between the eighth and 13th days of the month commemorating both Prophet Muhammad and Abraham.

During Hajj, Muslim pilgrims perform a series of rituals that dissolve the barriers between them. These rituals trace back 1,400 years, and their symbolism embodies unity among all believers: there is no distinction among people. More than two million Muslims show up to Mecca to complete these rites, as is obligatory on anyone who is financially and physically able to do so. All of us camp out in and around the Grand Mosque, The Kabah, and the surrounding vicinities such as Mount Arafat, Mina and Muzdalifa. There is a common thread among all: unity.

Hajj is considered to be one of the largest gatherings on earth, and with the high density of people in such close quarters, reality is stripped of all luxury. This experience allows one to be thankful for the blessings one has. It doesn’t matter if I’m American or born to immigrants. It doesn’t matter if I am a citizen or naturalized. It doesn’t matter how much I can earn or donate. What matters is my relationship to God and how I treat others around me out of love and fear for Him. Thus, I try my best to make it a point to engage in conversations with those who are dissimilar to me to debunk myths and promote cooperation.

As I take a moment to reflect on what this Hajj will mean for my community, I hope that mainstream society can also learn from Muslims. While Hajj is indeed a religious occurrence, it does not exclude individuals of other faiths — or no faith — from learning lessons of unity and sacrifice. Perhaps showing more compassion and kindness would allow us to flourish as a nation. Perhaps empathizing and lending a hand to the less fortunate would allow us to prosper as a society. Perhaps the problems within us can be lightened by lending a hand to those who may need it. The sky is truly the limit.


Hajj Quezon

Eid-Al-Adha at a public park in Quezon City, Philippines.


Eid Is A Chance To Celebrate The Wonderful Muslim Community That Shaped Who I Am Today

The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others and pay it forward.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied, 21 Aug 2018, independent.co.uk

The meaning of Eid changes as you age, but like many religious festivals, it serves as a moment in time to come back to community. Whether it’s the “small” Eid after Ramadan (Eid-ul-Fitr) or the “big” one a few months later (Eid-ul-Adha), there is something about interrupting daily life for celebration and worship that never gets old.

Growing up, Eid wasn’t just the one day of prayer. It involved weeks of excitement in the lead up, such as shopping with my mother and choosing a new special outfit for the day. The house would be scoured until it gleamed (the Muslim version of a spring clean), and the requisite sweets were baked (or bought) before being duly laid out on heavily garnished trays for the visitors who would flood the house during the festivities. On the morning of, my father would wake us all up just as the sun rose, and we would go to pray.

These are my foundational memories of “community” as a child. Walking towards the large field behind the local Muslim school towards the lines of shiny blue tarpaulin that had been laid out before dawn and hearing the sonorous, soothing chant of worship wash over me: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La ilaha illa Allah, Allah Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa lilahi alhamd.” Smiling at each other as we passed, wishing friends and strangers alike an “Eid Mubarak”, blessings on blessings, good tidings for the year ahead.

Aunties – blood relatives or not – who I hadn’t seen in for a year would coo over “how much I’d grown”, uncles would loudly clasp each other’s forearms in greeting, friends would compare outfits. There would be food, laughter, and the soft drink and tea was always flowing. And although I didn’t realise it at the time, these people were the people who were moulding me into the person I am today.

As I grew older, I moved away. I started working on oil and gas rigs, and would spend Eid calling family and smiling nostalgically at photos on my social media feeds. Settling into adult life, Eid was now spent with friends in different cities around the world. We learnt to create our own rituals and traditions, but as it turned out, they always had something in common with our childhood experiences. No matter where we were from, we found ourselves striving to replicate that feeling: yearning for a sense of belonging, meaning, and ultimately, community.

The Muslim “community” is often referred to as a single monolithic entity, but rest assured that not all Muslims share the same conception of it, or even believe themselves to be a part of it. Are we all part of a “community” by default? How important are they? And how much of ourselves do we owe to them?

Spending time and energy thinking about and investing in the communal rather than the individual may seem quaint, old-school even, in a world inundated with messages of individual success. But it is worth tempering the hubris and remembering how much of who we are is a matter of chance. Our parents, our early education and even our place of birth have significant impacts on our lives and chances of “success”. Behind every winner is an army of people who have made it possible: a coach, a dedicated teacher, a mother working double shifts.

My achievements would have been impossible if it weren’t for my parents and the people who surrounded me growing up. The best way to honour that is to be that backbone for others. Pay it forward, if you will. After all, isn’t that what community is all about?

Eid Mubarak!


Hajj Girl

A girl joins a prayer to mark the first day of Eid-Al-Adha in Gaza City on Tuesday 21st August 2018.


What I Learnt On Hajj: It’s No Picnic, But Then It Was Never Meant To Be

The annual pilgrimage provided me insights and lessons that I use daily.

Saeed Saeed, 23 Aug 2018, thenational.ae

Whenever people are about to embark on the religious Hajj pilgrimage in Makkah, they seem to feel the need to ask advice from those who have already done it.

Because every Hajj is unique to each worshipper, the questions mostly revolve around practical tips on how to navigate a two-million-strong sea of white-robed pilgrims.

But my advice to my Mauritanian friend Yassine, who performed the Hajj this year, was all about what happens after the fact, and how he will feel when he returns to Abu Dhabi next week. “That’s when your real challenges begin,” I said.

I understood his miffed expression, because I had the same reaction when, eight years ago, before travelling to the Hajj from Melbourne, an Australian teacher called Sara told me just that.

“What is she talking about?” I thought. “The challenge is to actually survive the Hajj.”

As someone who isn’t comfortable in large crowds, I thought the pilgrimage would be the most challenging experience of my life. And in a way, it was.

To describe the Hajj as gruelling is an understatement. For nearly a week, you are following a regimen that is both spiritual and physical. Daily prayers are mixed with walks to worship stations alongside millions of people from different languages and cultures.

While that sea of humanity is a beautiful thing to witness, it can be quite frustrating, too. There were plenty of moments when I came close to losing my temper with other pilgrims in my Hajj group – one was constantly complaining about the facilities and the heat, while the other was always late to the bus, causing us to get stuck in endless traffic jams.

I resolved to keep my mouth shut, and hoped my muttered prayers would assuage my grievances. But even that was a worry. I was mentally running myself ragged in my quest to seek a spiritual high. I was concerned that, despite my efforts and the hefty sum of money I paid to make the Hajj, I wasn’t “feeling it”, so to speak.

But like the physical world, the spiritual realm can also be subject to the rule of hindsight. For me, the Hajj was indeed no picnic but, on reflection, isn’t that the point?

The lack of sleep, the gruelling tawaf (circumambulation) of the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Makkah and standing in the heat on top of Mount Arafat allowed me to discover hidden reserves of stamina and resilience I never thought I possessed.

The daily prayers offered in congregation gave me an understanding that a spiritual life is not about chasing one feeling, but is instead an evolving process that needs to be constantly nourished and refined.

Instead of an entirely new beginning, I learnt that the Hajj gave me the tools to begin to make the internal changes I seek. And that’s where the challenges that Sara spoke of lay. Gleaning those insights is one thing, but to use them in life to be the best version of myself remains a tiring and daunting process.

It is the equivalent of climbing Mount Arafat daily, and constantly stumbling on the way. But, with the map and the tool kit that the Hajj provided me, at least I knew which direction to head in.

AMERICA IS LIKE A COLLEGE GIRL WITH DADDY ISSUES

Hoodo Hersi

I was recently listening to the classic rock song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel. The song is about an intense spiritual experience Gabriel had and therefore the lyrics are rich in metaphor and subtext. Out of all the lines he sings two in particular always catch my attention:

I did not believe the information / I just had to trust imagination. – lyrics from the song Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel

We live in a time when it is difficult to trust any information that comes our way. So I guess that leaves us with imagination, but whose do we trust? Our own? In the last few years I have relied heavily on trusting the imaginations of stand-up comedians. And it is for this reason that I have recently, as usual, been watching a glut of stand-up comedy.

There was a Lenny Henry 60th birthday special on BBC2, there was a two-part show called The Big Asian Stand-Up also on BBC2, and the BBC World Service program The Arts Hour had a summer comedy special from the Lion d’Or Cabaret Theatre in Montreal. The show was hosted by the always excellent American-Iranian Maz Jobrani, and it featured several comics from all over the world, namely from countries that Trump has listed on his multi-iterative travel ban. Now there’s international irony for you.

I have also been watching some stand-up from the recent Edinburgh Fringe, the biggest arts festival in the world. This year the Fringe has seen over 20,000 individual comedy performances taking place in August. That’s over 2 years worth of performances happening in just one month!

After watching all of this comedy I have transcribed some of my favourite quotes. As you may notice most of the quotes selected have a somewhat foreign/Asian/Muslim tinge to them. That just happens to reflect the type of comedy I have come across recently. Having said that, I do enjoy a good stand-up comedian from overseas. There is no better way to understand a country and its people than through their humour. Also, to paraphrase Trevor Noah (who was recently talking about fellow comedian Ronny Chieng), a good stand-up is able to expose the stupid and illogical things society blindly subscribes to, and is someone who can also dismantle the cage of our accepted reality.

As well as being funny a stand-up from another culture, another country, can also bring a nuance and experience to issues that we natives may not necessarily have. And not just that, but a minority stand-up can use comedy to level the cultural playing field by getting their perspective across, as explained by the great American humourist Art Buchwald:

People ask what I am really trying to do with humor. The answer is, “I’m getting even.” For me, being funny is the best revenge. – Art Buchwald

And that is what I see many of these stand-ups doing, they’re not getting mad, they’re getting even. Anyways, whatever the intention of these stand-ups is, I hope you enjoy the 15 selected quotes below.

Maz Jobrani Stars

Are my parents first cousins? Yes they are. Not something I love to talk about. And I found out when I was 15. Not a good day in my life at all when I found that out. We were actually watching television and I’m making fun of George Bush to my mum. “Hey mum, that looks like what happens when two first cousins get married!” You could cut through the awkwardness with a knife. My mother was like “Your father and I are actually first cousins.” “Oh. Okay. Sorry mother but this rice and dhaal doesn’t taste very good anymore. May I be excused?!” – Ali Hassan

Are there people in here who are raising their kids modern? For those of you who don’t know raising your kids modern means spending time with them. Because our parents didn’t spend time with us. First of all, I was born in Iran and then we went to America, and immigrant parents don’t spend time with anybody. I feel like immigrant parents, I don’t care where they are from, but once they get you to America they feel their job is done. I swear! We landed and my parents said to us “Land of opportunity. Go! You’re on your own. We’ll see you at graduation. You better be a doctor. And own properties.” – Maz Jobrani

As a Canadian the only way I can make sense of the election in the US is that, to me, America is like a college girl with daddy issues. Here me out okay. It’s like she’s left her uptight British parents, moved out, experimented with a black dude, flirted with the idea of being with a woman, and then was like “Just kidding! I like rich scumbags. He’s so stupid and rich.” I feel like if America was a person that’s who she’d be, and I can tell some of you want to laugh at that joke tonight but you’re like “I’m American too, so it’s not funny.” But it’s still true. – Hoodo Hersi

British Indians, out of every group, not just minority groups, but out of every group in the UK British Indians are the wealthiest and the best educated. We are taking increasingly prominent roles in the worlds of business and finance and politics, but we do it in a sort of behind-the-scenes way, we’re not ostentatious about it. So you might not know but secretly in the shadows we are sort of…basically, Jews are catching a lot of our heat! Conspiracy nutters everywhere are worried about the Rothschilds and the entire time the Patels are just quietly working away in the background. Why do you think it’s called the Illuminati? Because we run shit using looms, naan, and tea. Wake up! – Ahir Shah

I am originally from Palestine. It’s not easy being Palestinian nowadays or for the past seven decades. I think Palestinians are a very unique minority group. I think we’re the only ethnic minority group that gets excited when a racist person tells us to go back to our country. “Why don’t you go back to your country?” “Oh my God! Thank you so much. He thinks we have a country. That is so nice. Free Palestine.” – Eman El-Husseini

I speak Bengali, which is spoken in Bangladesh and is based on Sanskrit text. I speak Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan and is based on Arabic text. I speak Hindi, which is spoken in India and is also based on Sanskrit text. And I also speak English which, as you know, is based on oppression. – Eshaan Akbar

I was raised as a Muslim but I stopped practicing Islam a few years ago because I went on this journey of self-discovery, and that journey led me to discover bacon. That’s some lovely stuff you white guys are packing! Wow! I’ve never had alcohol but when I had bacon I was like “Woah! Hash tag I ain’t no Muslim bruv.” – Eshaan Akbar

I’m a 26 year old man who lives in his mums attic. I love living with my mum, an amazing woman. Last year we took in a refugee. He’s an amazing inspirational guy. He’s 16, he’s from Vietnam. Basically how this came about is my mum is a social worker and he was found and brought to her department, and he told us all this horrific stuff that he had been through. He’s been through the mill, he was forced into slave labour, human trafficked in the back of a van, and now he’s in Glasgow. As if that was part of the ordeal. As if he’d finally escaped from his captors, looked outside and went “Oh, for crying out loud! When will this madness end? Just put me back in the van.” So we decided to take him in. The next day the police brought him to our house. I thought that was pretty quick. I thought we would have had a couple of months, not 12 hours later the police knocking on our door saying “Alright mate? Here’s your refugee. Goodbye.” Is that it? I don’t need to sign anything? I’ve had tougher Amazon deliveries than this. What would they have done if we weren’t in? Just leave him with a neighbour? But taking in a refugee is hands down the best, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I say that like I’ve done loads of amazing stuff, like I’m Mother Theresa. The second best thing I’ve done is the time I managed to cook chips and a frozen pizza in the oven at the same time. Doesn’t sound that hard but they both had conflicting time and temperature guidelines. – Stephen Buchanan, winner of the 2018 BBC New Comedy Award

I’m British-Indian but my dad in Indian-Indian, he’s like aggressively into it. My dad has lived in various western societies for the last 37 years and has steadfastly refused to integrate into any of them, but he’s not Muslim so no one minds. I myself can’t be Indian-Indian, I couldn’t live there for long. If I have to live in a country that is so pointlessly hostile to Muslims it might as well be here in the UK. It’s closer. – Ahir Shah

Muslim women only wear the burka on special occasions these days, like when our kids have pissed us off, we’ll put one on and at home time we’ll just watch the little shits try and work out which is their mum. – Isma Almas

My best mate, Ruksana, came out to her mum. Ruksana’s mum is a very devout religious Muslim, she’s been to Hajj numerous times, she prays five times a day, so Ruksana was quite nervous about coming out to her. So she sat her down and she said to her “Mum, I’ve got something to tell you. I’m gay, I’m a lesbian.” And her mum just looked at her and said “Oh no! Now that is going to make it even harder to find you a husband.” – Isma Almas

My family are Muslim and some of you may have seen a Muslim woman wearing a burka, walking ten paces behind her husband. I just want to explain something, that’s not actually her husband. What we like to do is put a burka on, cover our faces, pick any Asian man, and follow him. It really freaks them out. – Isma Almas

My mum came over to the UK from Jamaica mid-to-late 1957. This was ten years after Windrush. She was really pissed off there wasn’t a camera crew to meet her. So she came over to the UK and it was different to what she thought it was going to be like. She thought it was going to be milk and honey and it wasn’t that at all. “No blacks, no Irish, no dogs.” We saw these signs in every single place where you went, so if you were a black Irish wolfhound you were buggered. – Lenny Henry

My parents came over from Pakistan in the 60’s, along with a lot of other men and women from south Asia, primarily to do the low paid jobs that white people didn’t want to do, like being doctors and surgeons. – Isma Almas

There was a lot of confusion when I was growing up. I got confused a lot about identity, I didn’t know what was going on. The most confusing thing that was ever said to me was on September 12th of 2001. I’ll take you back, if I may. I was in the eighth grade. There was this kid in our class, his name was Kyle. We were arguing, going back and forth in front of the whole class. He pushes me against the locker, he sticks his finger in my chest and says “Go back to Afghanistan, you dirty Pakistani.” And I’m Lebanese! I don’t know if I was offended more by the bigotry or the geography of the whole situation. – Wassim El-Mounzer

IMRAN KHAN IS NOT THE BROWN DONALD TRUMP

Imran Oath

So, I guess it’s official then. Pakistan’s charismatic cricket star turned firebrand politician Imran Ahmad Khan Niazi is the 22nd prime minister of Pakistan. Born in Lahore in 1952, the 65 year old took the official oath on Saturday 18th August 2018, a day after being elected by a majority of lawmakers in the national assembly. At a simple ceremony held at the Aiwan-e-Sadr (the President’s House) in Islamabad, Khan, as luck would have it, in front of all those people and cameras managed to fumble some of the words, all spoken in Urdu. Urdu is one of the officially recognised languages of Pakistan (English is the other one), and it is a language that Khan should really be fluent in. Even Trump was not similarly stumped when giving his oath to office in his native English tongue.

Despite this slightly embarrassing hiccup, Khan’s first wife Jemima Goldsmith, the British heiress daughter of a Jewish billionaire, the mother of his two sons, and to whom he was married for nearly a decade, publicly congratulated him on his victory.

Being prime minister of Pakistan has been described by Time magazine as one of the world’s toughest jobs, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, but even before then it was rather treacherous. The country’s first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, was assassinated, and a number of subsequent leaders have shared the same fate, variously being executed by order of the state, blown up on planes, and at political rallies. Therefore being cavalier about death seems to be a prerequisite in Pakistani politics. When Khan, who has spent more than two decades seeking the highest office in the land, was asked about such matters he casually replied that “You’ve got to go sometime. You might as well go for something you believe in.”

Khan’s first decision as PM was to scrub the nine-course meal traditionally served after the oath-taking ceremony, also held at the President’s House. It was a sign of the “austerity drive” he had promised while on the campaign trail. Instead, refreshments were served in the grand hall of the official residence. Khan had also campaigned on promises to combat Pakistan’s endemic corruption and to break the landowners’ monopoly on political power.

By any given standard Khan has led a full and colourful life. He served as the chancellor of Bradford University between 2005-2014, in the British city which has one of the highest concentrations of citizens of Pakistani ancestry. Described by Bradford’s vice chancellor as “a wonderful role model for our students”, Khan has been a hero for diaspora Pakistanis since his cricketing heyday in the 1980’s.

And it was during the 1980’s that he became known as a glamorous playboy cricketer. At the time he was friends with the likes of Mick Jagger, and he was known to wear leopard skin satin trousers whilst boogying at Annabel’s nightclub in Mayfair. In the defence of his playboy past Khan has said “I have never claimed to be an angel,” although it is somewhat doubtful that an angel could ever make it in Pakistani politics.

He also had a famous public spat with Salman Rushdie, author of the very controversial The Satanic Verses. Rushdie suggested that Khan was a “dictator in waiting” and compared his looks with those of Libya’s former dictator Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Khan’s elaborate response to this? “What is he talking about? What is he talking about? I always hated his writing. He always sees the ugly side of things. He is — what is the word Jews use? — a ‘self-hating’ Muslim.”

Khan has gone on to say “Why can’t the West understand? When I first went to England, I was shocked to see the depiction of Christianity in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian.’ This is their way. But for us Muslims, the holy Koran and the Prophet, peace be upon him, are sacred. Why can’t the West accept that we have different ways of looking at our religions? Anyway, I am called an Islamic fundamentalist by Rushdie. My critics in Pakistan say I am a Zionist agent. I must be doing something right.”

Imran Queen

An 18 year old Imran Khan is introduced to the Queen by Intikhab Alam at Lord’s cricket ground in London, 1971.

And then there is the cricket. Khan is not only Pakistan’s most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, but he is also Pakistan’s greatest ever sportsman. He captained Pakistan to victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup, against none other than the former colonialists England. The final of the 1992 ICC Cricket World Cup was played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in Melbourne, Australia, on the 25th of March 1992. A capacity crowd of nearly 90,000 spectators saw Pakistan win by 22 runs to lift their first and so far only World Cup trophy. Ian Botham, Khan’s then arch nemesis, was bowled out for a duck (by Wasim Akram). Such heroics have earned Khan the titles of ‘Lion of Pakistan’ and ‘Lion of Lahore.’

As recognised by Khan himself, his colourful life makes him many things to many people. Some see him see him as power-hungry, operating at the behest of the military and out to undermine Pakistan’s democratic progress. Some see him as being so close to the army that he been called the armies “blue-eyed-boy.”

Others see him as a principled leader who has stuck to his guns and defied all his critics. Others still see him as somewhat hypocritical. His cynical wooing of various hard line religious parties has earned him the nickname “Taliban Khan”. His anti-American rants and his election stance as an anti-corruption, populist champion of change, notwithstanding his privileged Oxbridge upbringing, have left some voters unsure whether he can be trusted. Likewise, in the small world of the Pakistani elite, many are equally convinced of Khan’s dubious allegiances, with stories circulating about how he has on several occasions met the CIA and MI6 in London.

Khan himself proclaims to be Pakistan’s only political leader to make their money outside Pakistan, while keeping it all in Pakistan. He sold his London flat to buy a jungle on the outskirts of Islamabad, with cows for milk and yoghurt, a vegetable patch and even his own wheat – a picture of idyllic self-sufficiency. Now he just has to recreate at least something of that vision for the country which he has been elected to govern. And the stakes are high in a youthful nation of more than 200 million people, where many still live in grinding poverty. Although the economy expanded by nearly 6% in the year to June 2018, the current account deficit is rising fast, partly due to currency devaluations. Economists say another IMF bailout may be unavoidable.

Khan is no longer the playboy he once was. He has since been at great pains to affirm his Islamic identity. His avowals of Islam, his identification with the suffering masses, and his attacks on his affluent English-speaking peers have long been mocked in the living rooms of Lahore and Karachi as the hypocritical ravings of “Im the Dim”, another moniker allotted to him by his critics. Khan, however, now considers himself a practicing Muslim with leanings towards Sufism, a mystical path very different from the Taliban’s Islamic literalism. Khan has said that “My tradition is of a more Sufi style of Islam.”

Perhaps the strangest criticism I have come across of Khan emanated from an unexpected source. I am a huge fan of Trevor Noah, a South African born stand-up comedian who is also the host of the American TV news satire program The Daily Show. Over the years Noah has been very Muslim-friendly in his outlook. Hasan Minhaj was a regular contributor to The Daily Show, until recently retiring from it to work on his own show.

However, in a recent episode Noah decided to compare Trump with other politicians around the world, in particular to Khan. The comparison was interesting to say the least. He talked about how both Khan and Trump have similar pasts: both are from privileged families, both went to the best universities, and both had playboy pasts because of their heartthrob status.

I realise the segment, no longer than 5 minutes, is meant to be purely satirical, and perhaps we should just watch it, laugh, and then move on with our lives. Noah does clearly say “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Imran Khan is the brown Trump…I’m saying that Imran Khan is one of many leaders around the world who is following the successful format of the hit show called ‘The Trump Presidency.’” To compare Khan to Trump is a little disingenuous as Khan has been a long-time critic of the American government, and he sees Trump as someone who is presiding over “absolute civilisational decay.”

A more detailed critique has been written by Pakistani journalist Mohammad Nazar Syed, and the clip itself is presented below.

Because he is now the prime minister of Pakistan, many things from his past have resurfaced online. Among the usual crop of historical or embarrassing photos and YouTube clips, there is an article written by Khan nearly 17 years ago that has started trending again. In early 2002 Khan wrote a lengthy article for the Arab News where he described in detail his views on Islam, science, materialism, the east, and the west. It is well a read and is presented below in full. Enjoy!


Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion

Imran Khan, 14 Jan 2002, Arab News

My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.

I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal — the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.

To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.

I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight.

Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.

While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions — two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?

It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines — and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well-being and needs something more.

Since all morality has its roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.

Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.

There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.

I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.

Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.

Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.

The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.