ALL PRINCESSES MATTER

Dear Parents

I read an article recently that described how we should rethink all those bedtime stories we know and love so well. In the article Five Reasons To Stop Reading Your Children Fairytales Now, journalist Olivia Petter warns us quite directly:

They’re the bedtime stories we’ve been telling for centuries; they’re the inspiration behind the box office hits that indoctrinated our childhood – and yet, fairytales are riddled with prejudicial and archaic stereotypes. Stories like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast are so ingrained in popular culture that it can be all too easy to overlook the damaging ideologies that they perpetuate via misogynistic characters, degrading plot lines and racial uniformity. – Olivia Petter

She goes on to reveal that the 5 reasons are: 1) women in fairytales are passive damsels who can only be saved by men, 2) marriage is the ultimate reward, with many fairytales presenting marriage as the sole goal for both the male and female characters, 3) there is a lack of racial/physical/sexual diversity, along with unrealistic body standards set by whippet-thin Belles and Ariels, 4) female characters are either bound to the home, 5) or they are evil step mothers/sisters/witches.

She ends the article by saying:

While fairytales can be brilliant for inspiring imaginative discussions in children, parents must be vigilant in their way of sharing these tales so as to avoid promoting outdated ideologies they continue to foster. – Olivia Petter

Disney Girls

An interesting article I’m sure you would agree, especially in light of the all the recent sexual harassment allegations and #MeToo discussions. I recently read another interesting article on the same subject of ‘princess culture’, this time by Stephanie Merritt (worth reading in full), and I also came across a story about PR consultant and mum Sarah Hall, from Newcastle, who said that Sleeping Beauty should be removed from her six-year-old son’s school curriculum, based on fears that the story may be giving young children the wrong message about consent.

She also says:

It’s not ok to wake a stranger with a kiss so why teach our kids it is?…I think it’s a specific issue in the Sleeping Beauty story about sexual behaviour and consent. It’s about saying is this still relevant, is it appropriate? In today’s society, it isn’t appropriate. – Sarah Hall

And then along comes comedian Hasan Minhaj who does a brilliant stand up routine about how “all princesses matter.” Hasan recently performed at the Night Of Too Many Stars benefit gig, which is a charity event held to raise money for autism.

Night Poster

In America the biggest charity helping people with autism is Next For Autism. Starting in 2006 and held about every 2 years since, the charity joins forces with Comedy Central and holds a star-studded event with A-list comedians and Hollywood stars. The event is known as the Night Of Too Many Stars, and proceeds from the event benefit a variety of autism programs across America. Over the years they have raised an impressive $18 million.

The most recent event was held this year on November 18th and was hosted by Jon Stewart. The show featured Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Robert De Niro, Paul Rudd, J J Abrams, Ben Stiller, Billy Joel, and many others. As expected stand up comedy was high on the agenda, and this year featured some brilliant performances from Kumail Nanjiani, Michelle Wolfe, John Mulaney, and the aforementioned Hasan Minhaj. The clips are featured below but please be warned, some of the dialogue is a bit risqué, so adults only. Enjoy!


Michelle Wolfe on how womens bathrooms are very mysterious…

I think no matter whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat we gotta give Trump credit when he deserves it. Like, he pulled out of the Paris agreement and I think you should get credit for that cuz he said he was gonna pull out and then he did, and that’s a refreshing quality in a man. – Michelle Wolfe

And if you think that joke was rude wait until you hear her final punchline!


John Mulaney on being zoned out since 2014…

Have you ever just been sitting there thinking about something for 20, 25 minutes, and all of a sudden you’re like “Oh my God! I’m driving!” And you remember “I’m going 75 miles an hour. I have been for a while. I could have changed so many lives.” – John Mulaney


Kumail Nanjiani on how he is such a star now…

The other day I was sitting at this coffee shop and this young woman came up to me, and she was shaking and she looked at me, tears in her eyes, and she said “What you do is so important to me. Thank you for being you. I love you on The Big Bang Theory.” And that’s how much of a star I am, people see me in everything, even stuff I’m not in. – Kumail Nanjiani


Hasan Minhaj on why all princesses matter…

He looks at me and he’s just like “Look man, I just don’t get you guys.”

I was like “What?”

“I don’t get you guys. You guys got the beards. You’re women dress like ninjas. I don’t get it. Why do you repress your women?”

And I’m like “Why do you repress YOUR women?”

He’s like “What? No! No we don’t. This is America. We don’t do that.”

I was like “Look man, I grew up in America. Every Disney movie I’ve ever watched, every white Disney princess, super repressed.”

He’s like “What are you even talking about?”

I’m like “Look at all of them. Cinderella. Cinderella is a white princess, right, her family sells her into human bondage and then her best friends ARE MICE! What sort of sick backwards culture makes their women befriend mice? Sleeping Beauty. Sleeping Beauty is a princess from Caucasia. We know that. Then she falls asleep and some dude Bill Cosby’s her and we’re all like ‘Oh, this is a normal healthy loving relationship.’”

Don’t groan, these are just facts. And he’s like “No no no no, that is not a white princess problem, that’s just a Disney problem.”

I’m like “Nah man, every black or brown Disney princess, super liberated. I’m sorry, every single one of them, all of them. Mulan. Mulan changes genders and becomes a general in ancient China. You guys! She has gender fluidity and she achieves the highest military ranking in ancient China. Moana liberates the Polynesian islands, you guys. She’s ten, okay. Meanwhile Ariel’s like ‘I want to be where the people are. Here’s my voice.’ Believe in yourself Ariel! Lean in. Sheryl Sandberg. Defeat the patriarchy. And don’t even get me started on Princess Jasmine. My first crush, okay. Princess J. The entire movie she’s wearing a two-piece. Bananas! Then when her dad’s like ‘Get an arranged marriage,’ she’s like ‘Screw you dad,’ she leaves on a magic carpet with this shirtless Muslim dude, whose best friend is a monkey and a possessed blue man that lives inside of a bong. That is the most liberal shit ever. And that was in Saudi Arabia! So we got to liberate these poor white princesses because all princesses matter, okay.”

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TO CHRISTMAS OR NOT TO CHRISTMAS? IS THAT THE QUESTION?

Tesco Muslims

Christmas. The season to be jolly. The season of peace and good will to all. But perhaps not to us British Muslims. Perchance a little context to that last statement. In recent years a new Christmas tradition has begun, that of the festive TV ad. So much has this tradition taken prevalence that journalist and author Caitlin Moran said the following:

In an increasingly non-secular age, where we are on the wane, culturally, the British Christmas is no longer defined by either the church or new Christmas singles from Wizzard, Slade and Wham! In 2017 the meaning of Britain’s Christmas is down to the real power-players: multinationals and their blockbusting Christmas ads. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

For a good few years now the leader of the pack has been the department store John Lewis, whose ads are now eagerly awaited by millions. This years blockbuster campaign was easily the most anticipated in the 10 year history of their TV Christmas ads. Featuring a cover of The Beatles song Golden Slumbers, performed by the band Elbow, the ad tells the story of a boy called Joe who is afraid of the dark, and his 7 foot guardian monster named Moz who lives under his bed.

Not that you will notice but there are actually two men hiding inside Moz’s costume while Joe is played by two actors, twins Ethan and Tobias. The ad runs for 130 seconds, cost £7 million in total (including buying air time), and took 8 months to make, which perhaps takes away from the sweet sentimentality a bit. For that amount of time and money you could probably get 3 Bollywood movies, each one about 3 hours long.

John Lewis were not the only ones trying to capture our TV watching hearts. According to the Advertising Association, due to intense market competition, especially within the retail sector, and the rise of big-budget campaigns, this year brands will be spending a record £6bn on Christmas ads, with spending jumping nearly 40% in just seven years. So this year on your TV you will also find glossy ads from Amazon, Lidl, Argos, Toys R Us, Aldi, Currys, Asda, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Debenhams, Swarovski , Boots, H&M, and Sky Movies, to name but most of them.

Whilst the John Lewis ad was the most eagerly awaited, it was not the most controversial. From all of these ads 2 controversies arose. The lesser controversy came from the Marks & Spencer ad, which featured the children’s character Paddington Bear. Paddington helps a would-be robber discover the true meaning of Christmas, and the robber in return, rather than saying a simple “thank you” apparently drops the f-bomb instead. The Advertising Standards Authority has said that he doesn’t, but judge for yourselves:

The far greater controversy came from the ad from Britain’s biggest supermarket Tesco. Their ad featured several British families all preparing for the festive season in their own way. One such family happened to be Muslim. Shock horror indeed. The ad was supposed to be one of inclusivity, showing the diverse make-up of our population by featuring families from all walks of British life. As well as the Muslim family, the ad features 14 families in all, including a black family, a same sex couple, a single parent family, and a stressed mother ordering people out of her kitchen.

This is the first time that Muslims have been represented by Tesco in a marketing campaign. It is ironic that it happened to be for a Christian holiday. And what heinous acts were these Muslims committing? In no more than a couple of seconds of the full 60 second ad you see 3 hijabi Muslim women and a young child greet and embrace each other in a tinsel-decorated house, with a wreath hanging on the front door, and you see them exchange festive gifts. The ad ends with the phrase “Everyone welcome”.

Surprise surprise, Twitter was aflame with opposing opinions. Here are just some of the many online comments from those offended:

And here are some comments making opposite points to those mentioned above:

Aside from Twitter the ad has been discussed elsewhere, such as on the radio station LBC by Maajid Nawaz:

We even have Trump supporter and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones weigh in on this ad:

The aforementioned journalist and author Caitlin Moran also commented on Muslims and how they celebrate this most festive of seasons:

“This is PC gone mad! Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas!” various columnists have scolded, clearly unaware that most (practising) Muslims treat Christmas exactly as (non-practising) Christians do: as a bank holiday to lie on your mum’s sofa stuffing yourself silly and bickering. – Caitlin Moran, 17 Nov 2017, thetimes.co.uk, from an article entitled What Christmas Is Really About — Adverts For Supermarkets

When I the read article by Moran, I noticed the following in the Comments section, from a Dr Annabelle, making a rather intriguing point: “I’ve just returned from Dubai where shops and malls are already festooned with bounteous amounts of Christmas decoration, apparently not offending anyone.”

All of this digital noise just adds to the usual annual debates that take place for us Muslims. Every year I find myself theologically debating with others questions such as: Are we Muslims allowed to say “Merry Christmas”? Are we, according to some Muslim scholars, integrating too much if we celebrate Christmas? Are we, according to some non-Muslims, not integrating enough? Are we allowed to up tinsel and a tree? Do we tell Christians that this is all a pagan festival? Are we allowed to eat mice pies? Is it mincemeat in there? Do I have to take part in the office secret Santa?

And now we have this ad which has opened up other cans of non-halal worms: Do such ads erode Christian values? Do they erode British values? Is this another example of political correctness gone maddeningly too far? Do such ads attack Islamic religious principles by moving Muslims towards assimilation rather than integration?

These seasonal issues all feed into the rhetoric that there is an open ‘war on Christmas’, something that is heavily debated not just here in Britain but also across the Atlantic in the United States. Only recently President Trump, a twice-divorced casino owner, stood before a mainly evangelical Christian crowd in October this year, and told them (to rapturous applause), “Guess what? We’re saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again,” fully unaware that nobody really stopped saying it in the first place, but never mind.

Back here in the UK Tesco, feeling the heat from the backlash to their ad, felt the need to respond. In an official statement the supermarket said: “Everyone is welcome at Tesco this Christmas and we’re proud to celebrate the many ways our customers come together over the festive season. We want our customers to know that however they choose to do Christmas, and no matter what they need, we can help – Everyone’s Welcome at Tesco.” The supermarket also said it “will celebrate the many ways we come together at Christmas, and how food sits at the heart of it all.”

In a satirical piece journalist Patrick West suggested that maybe Tesco had not gone far enough:

John Lewis and Tesco should hang their heads in shame. Their Christmas TV adverts are an outrage. They depict Muslims, people of Afro-Caribbean heritage, gays and women, but what is so glaringly absent, so disgracefully airbrushed out, is any representation of Britain’s Aztec community. Britain’s Aztecs, who first arrived at Southampton in 1876 on the SS Chapultepec, and who now mostly live in Southend-on-Sea, are an integral part of Britain’s vibrant, diverse, multicultural landscape, with their practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism adding so much to the rich tapestry of the nation. – Patrick West

I find it interesting that for some people a profane Santa-wannabe and a monster with a phallic shaped nose who physically handles your sleeping child (not creepy at all as I am sure he is fully CRB checked), are deemed to be more in the spirit of Christmas than a British family (who happen to have brown skin and follow the religion of Islam) buying things from Tesco. These same people, who openly object to the inclusion of Muslims in Christmas ads, will then be the same Islamophobes who accuse Muslims of not integrating, but then paradoxically, at the slightest sign of Muslims integrating in any way, will talk about how Muslims are taking over.

Another interesting point is that of how negatively Muslims are represented on TV. Here in this Tesco ad we have Muslims in non-stereotypical roles. There are no terrorists, no oppressed women, no forced marriages, no racist chants, no burning flags, no dodgy accents, no one longing for the motherland, and no one shouting “Allah-hu-akbar.” This is a point also recognised by journalist Melena Ryzik:

It has never been easy to put a Muslim character on American screens. Even in this TV renaissance, most characters are on shows that rely on terrorism — or at least, terrorist-adjacent — story lines. Other kinds of Muslim characters are woefully absent across the dial. – Melena Ryzik, 30 Nov 2016, nytimes.com, from and article entitled Can Television Be Fair To Muslims?

The same sentiment also applies to British TV. In this day and age where Islamophobia is well on the rise, where Trump is trying to reinstall his Muslim travel ban (fourth time lucky?), and where the far right march openly in America and Europe and beyond, we Muslims need all the positive representation we can get. In that light, I for one am more than happy at Tesco and their ad, even if others (Muslim and non-Muslim) are not.

I will leave you with a brilliant article written by Ruqaya Izzidien in the New Statesman. Enjoy!


If You Find Muslims In A Christmas Ad Offensive, The Grinch Of The Year Is You

Ruqaya Izzidien, 10 Nov 2017, newstatesman.com

Is the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly really more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin?

This week Tesco released it Christmas advert for 2017, featuring snapshots of British families preparing, eating and squabbling over the Christmas turkey. It portrayed families with different races, classes, ages and sexual orientations, but one element that – predictably – brought out the PC police – hijabis.

One scene in the advert depicts Muslim women greeting each other at the door, with tinsel-adorned walls. The response has been overwhelmingly negative, with critics lamenting the lack of overt Christian symbols in the advert. Right, because who can forget the celebrated Christian symbolism of adverts past, Buster the bouncing boxer dog, the man on the moon and that bastion of religion, Monty the penguin?

Christian symbolism is always absent or, at best, an undercurrent in Christmas supermarket adverts, whose modus operandi is to evoke nostalgia in order to sell products, not to promote Christianity. The only reason critics are offended by this advert, is because they dared to acknowledge that Muslims exist.

As British Muslims, we spend our whole lives being told to integrate, to be part of British culture, to embrace British traditions. So we win medals at sports days, we bake in county shows, we cure your colds and complain about the rain. We have roast dinners and shepherd’s pies, we vote for our councillors and we petition to have that terrible road fixed.

But God forbid we exist during Christmas. Because, yes, critics of this advert expect us to integrate, but not too much. Not so much that we have good jobs, that we celebrate British holidays, that they have to see our integration, not so much that we break the stereotype that they’ve thrust upon us.

It’s a predicable cycle. A television channel, or newspaper article, or advert features a Muslim in hijab, and it is perceived as an incitement, of giving Muslims special treatment. Our mere existence is a political statement, and an explicit example of our integration is – as this advertisment has been called time and again – “offensive”.

The fear that Christmas is being Islamicised is unfounded. The Tesco advert didn’t imply that Muslims are filling up the churches on Christmas morning – it didn’t even suggest we are all guzzling turkey come the 25th, since Tesco doesn’t actually produce any halal turkey – all it did was demonstrate that Muslims, like any other Brits, get together during holiday seasons. We throw a bit of tinsel up, have dinner at friends’ houses. And if you find that offensive, then the Grinch of the year is you.

Opponents of the advert were quick to point out that Christians – or normal Brits – don’t celebrate Muslim holidays. That is not entirely true, the difference is that British Muslims welcome solidarity fasts in Ramadan, and plenty of us celebrate Eid with non-Muslim friends. Integration is a loaded word, and its meaning is a lot more nuanced than its general usage; there are those who argue that the word should be cast aside for another that doesn’t imply assimilation. But for those Muslims who attempt to integrate, whether they ought to or not – there is always the inescapable obstacle that we see with this advert; integration is a two-way street.

No matter how many Olympic medals we win or how many music records we sell, even if we bake a birthday cake for the Queen, the idea of a seeing a British Muslim on your telly is still more outlandish than an Antarctic penguin, magical creatures under your bed and an elderly man living in a shack on the moon.

To all those people who tell us that their problem with Muslims is that we don’t want to integrate, this is your moment. Either you accept our integration, and rejoice in the Muslim celebration of the holiday season, or admit that the sight of a brown woman in hijab showing festive cheer offends you. It would just bigot if you could admit it.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH MADE ME SAY “ALLAH-HU-AKBAR”

BLUE PLANET II

I was watching the brilliant BBC TV wildlife program Blue Planet II, narrated by broadcasting legend David Attenborough, and they were showing these amazing crystal-like coral reef sponges. They showed a shiny silver coral known as Venus’s flower basket, which lives several miles down in the bottom of an ocean trench. Living inside this particular sponge were two shrimp who had crawled in when they were young but were now too big to crawl back out the same way they came in. These shrimp, one male and one female, had mated and the female was now pregnant. You could clearly see it was carrying several eggs. As I was watching this I just sat there amazed and dumb founded, so much so that I involuntarily whispered “Allah-hu-akbar” under my breath. I said this Arabic phrase because I was genuinely astonished at what I was seeing. Now, here is my question: does saying this Arabic phrase make me a terrorist?

The reason I ask is this phrase has once again hit the headlines because a certain Muslim was heard shouting it repeatedly as he killed eight people in New York on the 31st of October 2017. As can be imagined the phrase has been widely discussed and dissected in the media since the attack. Even the Sun, a right wing British newspaper, felt the need to write a somewhat positive article about it. Likewise, CNN’s Jake Tapper, who said the phrase was “sometimes said under the most beautiful of circumstances,” got caught up in then trying to defend his comments from various Fox News pundits:

As someone who says “Allah-hu-akbar” many times each day (I did the math and can confidently say that I have said this phrase over 1.1 million times in my life so far, and continue to say it over 150 times per day), I personally believe this phrase should not be so violently misaligned just because some hoo-haa-numb-nut decides to yell it loudly (and probably with incorrect syntax) before killing innocent people for a twisted ideology that, under close scrutiny, makes no sense whatsoever. (For more on this please read the brilliantly satirical article ISIS Wondering Where Insane Medieval Fantasy Project Went Wrong by the always hilarious Daily Mash). As Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR-Florida, said in response to this recent terror attack in New York, “That is the biggest act of heresy, to shout God’s glorious name when committing the worst crime against God.”

Unfortunately one can choose from a plethora of morons who over the years have committed atrocities while shouting “Allah-hu-akbar” at the top of their lungs. Another recent example that springs to mind is that of a man who was arrested outside Buckingham Palace in August 2017, armed with a 4-foot sword. He was shouting (you guessed it) “Allah-hu-akbar” as he struggled with London’s Metropolitan police officers. Three unarmed officers suffered minor injuries as they detained the 26-year-old man, whilst two were treated at a hospital for cuts. The man drove his car at a police van and stopped in front of it in a restricted area near Buckingham Palace. He was eventually incapacitated with CS spray.

In order to try and bring some reasoned context to the debate surrounding the phrase “Allah-hu-akbar”, I thought it best to examine what it actually means and what Muslims actually feel about it.


What it looks like in Arabic…

Before we get to the deeper meaning, this is what it looks like when written fancifully in its original Arabic form:

Allah-Hu-Akbar


How to pronounce it…

And this is how to actually say it:

The phonetic transliteration is “Al-law-hu-ak-bur” and the simplest translation is “God is great.” However, after the New York terror attack, it is noticeable that various news readers clearly not versed in the Arabic tongue were mispronouncing this as “Aloo-ak-bur” which literally means “potatoes are great.” This small and weird bit of comic relief, in the context of a horrific tragedy, was noticed by the likes of journalist Aisha Sultan, lawyer Rabia Chaudry, and the journalist Mehreen Kasana. Chaudry even offered her services to help those in linguistic need, tweeting:


What it does and does not actually mean…

Before we get to what it really means, let us start with what the phrase is not. Contrary to the bigoted views of some, the phrase is not the war cry of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He first uttered the phrase whilst praying and meditating in the mountains around Mecca. Likewise, when translated by some as “God is greater” or “God is greatest,” this is not meant comparatively to other gods and religions. Muslims are not saying Allah is greater than your God. These words are therefore not, to refute the magazine American Thinker, “a statement of Islamic supremacism and war.”

There is indeed a comparative nature of the phrase which is explained simply as follows:

Allahu Akbar means “God is greater than…”; it suggests that Allah is greater than any noun with which one might choose to complete the sentence. – from the book The Complete Idiots Guide To The Koran by Shaykh Muhammad Sarwar and Brandon Toropov

And here are a few other definitions that hopefully bring greater depth to what this phrase actually means:

Allah is Allah-hu-akbar, Allah is greater than anything I could ever say about Allah. We can’t praise You as You have praised Yourself. You are as You praise Yourself. Anything I say about Allah, it’s deficient. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

For the record, “Allahu Akbar” has no inherent political/violent connotation meriting instant terror diagnosis. I say it like 20 times a day…If you understand how it is used in common parlance amongst Muslims for nearly every single situation maybe it would make sense…Favorite team wins? You say it. Fav team loses? You say it. Something wonderful happens? You say it. Something terrible happens? You say it. – Rabia Chaudry

In the West, “Allahu akbar” is commonly confused for only being a battle cry but in reality, millions and millions of Muslims say this phrase in a variety of situations. From extraordinary contexts like when someone gets cured of a debilitating disease to everyday and ordinary situations like praying or even getting up from bed, there is no fixed situation for which “Allahu akbar” must be uttered…In the wake of the Tuesday terror attack in New York City, there’s going to be a ton of discussion on the phrase, its meaning, and how in some cases it has definitely been used by terrorists. But the resounding majority of Muslims use “Allahu akbar” for innocuous matters and things that are utterly harmless. – Mehreen Kasana

“Allahu Akbar” is a powerful declaration used by Muslims on many occasions and in many prayers. It is a celebration of life, not death and destruction, the first words fathers whisper in the ears of their newborns. They are used to indicate gratitude when God bestows something upon you that you would have been incapable of attaining were it not for divine benevolence. It is a prayerful phrase that reminds us that, no matter what our concerns may be, God is greater than them. – Imam Omar Suleiman, founder and president of the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research

The phrase Allahu akbar has a long history of use within Islam. It expresses a sentiment that is at its heart a theological reflection about humanity’s place in the world: That no matter what trials or victories people face, God is greater than it all…Allahu akbar is an affirmation of a belief in a monotheistic God…since it suggests that God has no partners. Belief in absolute monotheism is a core part of orthodox Islamic theology. – Carol Kuruvilla


When do we say it…

We Muslims say this phrase all the time, in a myriad of different situations. Aside from the example above of Sir David making me involuntarily say it several miles deep in the ocean, here are a few more examples just to illustrate the wide and varied usage of this phrase.

A friend of mine used to work for the computer giant Cap Gemini. He was part of a test team working on a complicated project. They were testing a particularly complex piece of code. My friend hit the button and several people from the project team, including a few managers, stood there anxiously waiting to see what would happen. After a few minutes the computer returned a result: success! The stunned silence was punctuated by the voice of my friend, who just uttered “Allah-hu-akbar!” My friend said this made a few people laugh, and everyone present was pleasantly surprised, as such an intricate piece code worked first time. The phrase was uttered and no one died.

In an episode of the BBC TV program Have I Got News For You, Adil Ray (aka Citizen Khan) explains how context really is everything:

Here we have a few more differing examples:

After every sneeze a Muslim is taught to say “Alhamdulillah” (thanks be to God). – Faisal Kutty

I say “Allahu akbar” out loud more than 100 times a day. Yesterday, I uttered it several times during my late-evening Isha prayer. Earlier, during dinner, I said it with my mouth full after biting into my succulent halal chicken kebab. In the afternoon, I dropped it in a conference room at the State Department, where I’d been invited to address a packed room of government employees about the power of storytelling. Specifically, I expressed my continuing gratitude for the election of Barack Obama, whom, in a joking nod to the Islamophobic paranoia that surrounded him, I called “our first Muslim American president,” adding “Allahu akbar!” People in the crowd laughed and applauded, the world continued to spin, no one had an aneurysm, and only a few people seemed to wonder with arched, Sarah Sanders-like eyebrows, “Wait, is he …?” I even confess to saying “Allahu akbar” two days ago in a restroom after losing the battle, but ultimately winning the war, against a nasty stomach virus. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, from a brilliant article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

It is a powerful expression that can also lend strength and fortitude in difficult times. In his final days, before succumbing to the cancer that lent us nineteen years with him, my father often invoked the words. In the midst of enduring unimaginable pain, we’d find him calmly and quietly reciting “Allahu Akbar. Sabr aur shukr.” God is the Greatest. Be patient, be grateful. – Dr Zainab Chaudry

In fact, we say it so many times that Eric Nagourney may be right when he says:

Allahu akbar is so commonplace a saying as to be utterly unworthy of note. It’s quite an innocuous expression. – Eric Nagourney


When not to say it…

Here we have a few examples of the phrase being used way out of context. We start with Ahdaf Soueif who, somewhat incorrectly, uses it for less divinely inspired and rather more prosaic matters:

Let’s say your football team is mounting an attack. You can say, ‘Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar,’ and you’re pushing them along, like, ‘Go for it, go for it, go for it.’…You see a really beautiful woman or a good-looking guy, you go, ‘Allahu akbar.’ – Ahdaf Soueif, an Egyptian author

Another bizarre example of the use of this phrase comes from the 1987 movie Beverly Hills Cop II, where Axel Foley (iconically played by Eddie Murphy) says the phrase in order to wriggle his way out of a difficult situation:

And here we have the animated TV program Family Guy using it rather controversially as a literal wakeup call with their Palestinian alarm clock:


What other Muslims are saying about it…

Sarah A Harvard uses this phrase and Muhammad Ali as daily inspiration:

In my room, hanging on the wall across my bed, is a framed poster of Ali holding a copy of Muhammad Speaks, once the official journal for the Nation of Islam, with a headline that reads “Allah is the Greatest.” It serves as a reminder every time I wake up in the morning that even Ali—who, at the boiling point of the Civil Rights Era, convinced America that a black man was “the greatest” and also submitted to one God. He was never afraid to shout “Allahu Akbar.” Ali was proud to say it and the world loved him for it. – Sarah A Harvard

Ali Newspaper

She goes on to say:

“Allahu Akbar” unites over 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, who all speak different dialects and languages, as well as Arab Greek Orthodox and Christians who use the expression. It’s a versatile, humble phrase, said about 100 times a day during our five daily prayers. It’s whispered into a newborn’s ear. It’s muttered as the last words before one’s death. It’s said at the sight of a beautiful sunset or a starry night, and roared during moments of chaos and strife. It’s a reminder that no matter how invincible or vulnerable we feel, God—the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful—is greater than all other powers and has always sought out the best for us. – Sarah A Harvard

Mehreen Kasana explains why is it important to understand this phrase properly:

Social vilification of such a common phrase among Muslims is dangerous because it gives a distorted portrayal of a religious minority’s practices. It depicts an ordinary phrase in exaggerated and negative light, only leading to more animus against a community that has already been witnessing Islamophobia for years now. A phrase can be used in both good and bad contexts, and remembering to take a nuanced stance on that as opposed to panic and paranoia will help people learn more about a community and bridge divisions. – Mehreen Kasana

And here we have Karim Shamsi-Basha who grew up with the phrase:

I grew up saying “Allahu Akbar” numerous times every day. And no, I wasn’t, and am not, a terrorist. I wasn’t someone who blew buildings up, killed people or shot a missile from my rocket launcher. As far as the West is concerned, those are the events associated with the saying when something bad is about to happen. People of the West are terrified of the phrase…The phrase is to remind Muslims that God is supreme. That’s it. It was never to be used as a battle cry during horrendous actions furthering political agendas with evil motives. – Karim Shamsi-Basha


Final point…

After all is said, done, and written by myself and others, be they Muslim or otherwise, the truth of the matter is that this murderous idiot in New York and all the other zealot idiots can say what they like as it actually makes no difference in terms of body count. This cold harsh reality was pointed out by Nathan Lean, author of such books as The Islamophobia Industry and Understanding Islam And The West:

This sentiment was also shared by the aforementioned Wajahat Ali and Imam Omar Suleiman:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy. – Wajahat Ali

We mustn’t allow terrorists or agendas of fear to own any of the words, concepts, or devotions found in the sacred text of a quarter of the world’s population. That would give them exactly what they want. And God is far greater than the ugliness committed in His name. “Allahu Akbar…” – Imam Omar Suleiman

NEW YORK HIGHLIGHTS THE SAME OLD DOUBLE STANDARDS

Saipov Varvel

On Tuesday 31st October 2017 Sayfullo Saipov, a 29 year old immigrant who moved to the US legally from Uzbekistan in 2010, drove a Home Depot rental truck southbound into a pedestrian and bike path along the West Side Highway in Lower Manhattan in New York City, close to the Hudson River. He killed eight people and injured eleven in the deadliest terror attack on the city since 9/11. Six people died at the scene, while two others died at a nearby hospital. Five of the dead were friends from Argentina celebrating a graduation anniversary. An unnamed Belgian mother of two was also among the dead.

Saipov was shot in the abdomen by a New York City police officer at the scene, and was then taken in custody to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. As he exited his truck he was heard to shout “Allah-hu-akbar”. He left a note in the truck, written in Arabic, that said the “Islamic State will endure forever.” As expected, ISIS are more than happy to take credit for this atrocity, calling Saipov a “soldier of the Caliphate.”

The truck driver started his rampage near Houston Street, tearing down approximately 20 city blocks on a bike path along the Hudson River, a site popular with cyclists and runners. The truck came to a stop after it collided with a school bus near Stuyvesant High School, near Chambers Street, the location of several schools which were letting out children for the Halloween evening. He then is said to have waved a pellet gun and a paintball gun in the air while pledging himself to Allah. It was at this point that he was shot by police. At least four passengers — two adults and two children — were on the school bus when the pickup driver slammed into it. The children were among the injured.

His sister, Umida Saipova, speaking with Radio Free Europe from her home in Uzbekistan, said her family had not noticed any signs of radicalisation in her older brother. She claimed they had a “normal” conversation with him the day before the attack, in which he said he was eating his mother’s favourite pastry, and was on his way to pick up a client at the airport (Saipov worked as an Uber driver). She went on to say: “We don’t know who has brainwashed him. We don’t know his circumstances. We don’t know. Perhaps he’s become part of some organised group. My mother said she would have brought him back to Uzbekistan had she noticed anything. I don’t know, honestly, how long it will take for his head to get rid of that poison, but I’m sure he will come to his senses, God willing.”

She also added: “We don’t think he should be given the death penalty immediately. We are hoping for a fair trial. We are ready to go there, if it’s possible, to talk to him. Please pass my message to Trump, if possible.” Good luck with that.

Whilst ISIS maybe losing real ground in the physical world, this attack in New York shows how it is gaining virtual ground in the digital world. Saipov was found to have about 90 videos and 3,800 images on his cell phone featuring ISIS propaganda, including a video of a beheading, shootings, bomb-making instructions and several images of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He also wanted to hang the group’s flag in his hospital room after the attack. Again, good luck with that. He has also told prosecutors he was inspired to carry out the truck attack by watching these ISIS videos on his mobile phone.

An imam in Florida who knew Saipov was increasingly worried that he was misinterpreting Islam. “I used to tell him: ‘Hey, you are too much emotional. Read books more. Learn your religion first,’” said Abdul, the imam, who does not want his last name used because he fears reprisals. “He did not learn religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community. He had a character problem. He became more obsessed with the physical trappings of Islam: the long beard, the ankle-high pants. He never spoke of violence, though.”

As has become the norm with such atrocities, the talk of double standards rears its ugliest of heads. Below are just a few things I have come across that refer to the hypocrisies that arise in the media coverage of these types of events:


Moustafa Bayoumi

Writing in the Guardian, Moustafa Bayoumi, in an article entitled We Must End The Terror Double Standards, talks of the misguided logic used by some when analysing attacks carried out by Muslims:

The White House is also pushing a position of collective guilt that will only bode ill for Muslims and foreigners and is completely unlike its reaction from just weeks ago. The Las Vegas shooting prompted the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, to say that since “there is an ongoing law enforcement investigation” then “it would be premature for us to discuss policy when we don’t know all of the facts.” And yet, here again, a gross double-standard stares us squarely in the face, as Donald Trump exhibits no such restraint when it comes to this attack. “I have just ordered Homeland Security to step up our already Extreme Vetting Program,” the president tweeted last night. He is now also targeting the Diversity Visa Lottery, a system established in 1990 with the laudable goal of expanding the pool of immigrants that are admitted into the country. In their rush to connect this attack to international terrorism, journalists and politicians are missing a key fact. It takes no special training to run people over with a vehicle. You don’t need to be a dangerous foreigner to buy fake weapons like a paint gun or a pellet gun. Anyone can shout “Allahu Akbar”. It’s easy to say you claim allegiance to ISIS. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017

He goes on to say:

In American culture today, terrorist attacks by Muslims are still reflexively seen as the expression of a problem shared by all Muslims worldwide, hence the kneejerk demands that Muslims everywhere denounce all attacks by individual Muslims anywhere. Terrorist attacks by white Americans, by contrast, continue to be seen as individual psychological puzzles that are begging to be solved with sympathy and care. This logic is as dangerous as it is misguided, since it feeds the notion that Muslims, who are nearly a quarter of the world’s population, are a unique threat who require their own special set of security measures. To adopt such measures would be to abandon the very principles of equality that our society is supposed to hold dear. – Moustafa Bayoumi, 01 Nov 2017


Stephen Colbert

Late night talk show host Stephen Colbert commented on how President Tweets-A-Lot reacted to the incident. Colbert tweeted himself that “The terrorist attack in the Big Apple is quickly politicized by the Big Orange.” Very clever word play, I am sure you will agree. In his talk show he went a little further:


Trevor Noah

On a recent episode of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah also made some rather poignant remarks about how Trump has reacted to the New York city attack.


Mr Fish

The always controversial cartoonist Mr Fish makes an indirect point about the attention these killings are receiving as opposed to others in America.

Saipov Ourselves


Wajahat Ali

In a brilliant article that is well worth reading in full, Wajahat Ali made the point that we need to reclaim the phrase uttered by Saipov as he was shot:

It’s easy to forget that language is often hijacked and weaponized by violent extremists. Some people yell “Allahu akbar” and others chant “heritage,” “culture” and “white pride.” The preferred slogans of a killer don’t make much difference to the people whose lives are lost or their loved ones, but they make all the difference in Americans’ collective understanding of a tragedy…If only the hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico, leaving American citizens in desperate need of power, food or water, could have yelled, “Allahu akbar,” triggering that kind of tough response. Perhaps our president would have been able to see the storm as evil. Perhaps he would have been energized by a “them versus us” rage to insist on swift action to repair the damage. – Wajahat Ali, 01 Nov 2017, nytimes.com, from an article entitled I Want ‘Allahu Akbar’ Back

MY CULTURAL WEEK AS A MUSLIM

It can be rather overwhelming trying to keep up with all that is going in the world. I find it difficult enough trying to keep with everything going on in the Guardian newspaper. So, what to do? Especially when you want to highlight certain news stories that you think others may have missed? A possible solution is my attempt at a newsletter. Please find below a handpicked selection of my cultural highlights from the past week or so. The aim is to perhaps highlight stories that either passed you by or were lost in the sea of digital information that washes over us on a daily basis. Anyways, here goes…


My Week As A Muslim…

My Week

One of the most controversial programs on British TV this year has been the Channel 4 documentary My Week As A Muslim. The program followed white 42 year old Katie Freeman, who now works as a healthcare assistant in the NHS. Katie lives in Winsford, Cheshire, and is frightened of Muslims. So how does she try to overcome this? She ‘brownfaces’ to become a pretend Pakistani Muslim and lives with a Muslim family for a week to see how the other half live.

Some people hated it, other loved. Reviewing the show in the Guardian, Rebecca Nicholson said it was:

A cynical concept…a documentary so spectacularly odd in every respect that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t conceived as a dare. – Rebecca Nicholson

However, the producer of the show, Fozia Khan, in response to all her critics said (again in the Guardian):

Our use of ‘brownface’ is nothing to do with mockery – it’s about opening the eyes of someone who has misconceptions about Muslim life…I wanted the new show to bring to a wide audience the harsh realities of what was happening…I was determined to make something that would reach people who wouldn’t normally watch a programme about Muslims…People have suggested that we could have used a different approach – such as giving Muslim women hidden cameras to show their experiences. This has been done before, and we wanted to try something different. Something you are taught as a Muslim from a young age is that intention is the foundation of every action. We were very clear what our intention was in making this programme, and I believe we achieved what we set out to do. – Fozia Khan

My personal opinion is that, once you get past the controversial ‘brownface’ make up and prosthetics applied to a white woman, this is a brilliant documentary that truly does change perceptions in the right way, and it does so right in front of our very own eyes. If you get the chance to see it please do.


American politics is broken…

If you follow American politics you will know who Republican Senator Jeff Flake is. He is one the many thorns currently in the side of President Trump. The good senator recently announced he will be stepping down after finishing his current term, and he did so in rather spectacular style. Not only did he verbally broadside Trump in a speech on the senate floor, but he also wrote a cutting opinion piece in the Washington Post:

There is a sickness in our system — and it is contagious. How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced? How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off? How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it? How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage? Nine months of this administration is enough for us to stop pretending that this is somehow normal, and that we are on the verge of some sort of pivot to governing, to stability. Nine months is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough…more is now required of us than to put down our thoughts in writing. As our political culture seems every day to plumb new depths of indecency, we must stand up and speak out…It’s time we all say: Enough. – Senator Jeff Flake, 24 Oct 2017, washingtonpost.com


Hollywood is also broken…

I find it interesting that the Islamic world is criticised for how Muslim women are treated. Such criticisms strongly imply that the west is somehow better in the way they treat their women compared to how we Muslims treat our women. And then along comes Harvey Weinstein. Whilst much has been written about power, privilege, the casting couch, the male dominance of Hollywood, and much else besides, I found this article from Ezra Klein to be worth a read:

When a culture produces this much sexual assault, it’s not an accident…This isn’t just about Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump…It’s America that has the problem. Pick an industry and you’ll hear stories…There is a pervasiveness to sexual assault in America that defies the word “problem.” When a system creates an outcome this consistently, this predictably, in this many different spaces, you have to at least consider the possibility that the outcome is intended, that the system is working as designed…something must be done, and it needs to be bigger than a few scapegoats. – Ezra Klein, 23 Oct 2017, vox.com, from an article entitled When A Culture Produces This Much Sexual Assault, It’s Not An Accident


And social media is broken as well, and it is scary…

The brilliant British comedian Russell Howard commented on his recent TV program about how pressure on young girls, mainly in the form of social media, is taking a dangerously unhealthy toll…


America now has a female Muslim superhero…

Tala Ashe

The always on point Dean Obeidallah wrote an interesting article in which he mentioned the popular American television program DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow. The show is cashing in on the current popularity of awesome superheroes and as such features many of them. However, one of the most recent additions is rather interesting. Only last week the show unveiled a character called Zari Adrianna Tomaz, a Muslim female superhero who also happens to be played by the Iranian-American actress Tala Ashe. This caused Obeidallah to comment:

So Trump can decertify the Iranian deal all he wants, but he can’t stop Zari. – Dean Obeidallah

Later on in the article Obeidallah also mentions how Zari will be a break from the stereotypical norm of what we currently see on TV:

Zari will not have Muslim-esque super hero skills like the ability to haggle endlessly over prices…you won’t see the cliché American TV depiction of a Muslim woman in a burka and silent. Instead, you will see Zari—a person who is proud to be both Muslim and American. And that is big step for both American television and for American Muslims…Today it’s a Muslim superhero, tomorrow it’s a Muslim president! – Dean Obeidallah


And Israel honours a real life Muslim hero…

During World War II the Egyptian doctor Mohamed Helmy, based in Berlin, risked his life by hiding several Jewish people from the Nazis and thereby saving their lives. Such was his bravery that Helmy was recognized in 2013 by Yad Vashem (Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust) as a Righteous Among The Nations (an honorific used by Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis). Helmy was the first Arab to be recognized as such and only recently did he posthumously receive his award.

KUMAIL, ISMAEL, KHALID…AND JOE

Kumail SNL

After doing a rather serious blog post about suicide, depression, and loneliness, I thought it best to do a blog post to uplift the spirits. In that regard please find below 21 minutes of glorious stand up comedy, all with a slightly Islamic stance. As usual, I have tried to transcribe some of my favourite moments. I do hope you enjoy!


Kumail Nanjiani

In his stand up monologue on the legendary TV show Saturday Night Live, aired on 14th October 2017, Kumail tackled the ever prevalent disease of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia is really on the rise right now. It never really went away but it’s really having a moment right now. Islamophobia is kind of like “Will & Grace”, it was huge a while ago and then we thought it was gone and done and now it’s back and bigger than ever. Thursdays on NBC! They make me say that.

I saw a guy be like “Of course all Muslims are sexist. The Qur’an says women can’t drive.” Yeah, I’m pretty sure the Qur’an never said that. Because if the Qur’an had said women can’t drive cars 1400 years ago, I would be at the mosque right now. And so would all of you. Because that would mean the Quran predicted cars. If 1400 years ago the Qur’an was like “Some day there will be a metallic box that will carry you wherever you want, and it will have four wheels, and you’ll have to put gasoline in it, and it’ll have a little speedometer to tell you how fast you’re going, and it’ll have a Bluetooth connection, and women shouldn’t drive it,” I would be like “I know two things for sure: Islam is the only true religion, and women shouldn’t drive.”

I am so glad you laughed at that, because otherwise it sounds like I’m just giving a very divisive speech. “Islam is the only true religion! Women shouldn’t drive!” That would definitely be the quote on the internet tomorrow.

Sikh people get attacked all the time for being Muslim. Spoiler alert, they’re not. But they’re brown and they were turbans so people attack them for being Muslim, which must put them in such an awkward position, because they’re like “I’m not Muslim. Not that you should attack Muslims, but if you’re looking to attack Muslims, which you shouldn’t, I’m not one. There is a Muslim right over there. Don’t attack him. Unless somebody’s definitely getting attacked, in which case get it right, which is wrong.”

Which brings me to my problem with most racism. Here’s my problem with most racism. It’s the inaccuracy, that’s what bugs me. I’m like “Do the research! Put in the work! You will see the benefits!” I’ll give you an example. If someone yells at me “Go back to India” I’d be like “That guy’s an idiot.” But if someone was like “Go back to Pakistan, which was part of India until 1947 and is now home to the world’s oldest salt mine” I would be like “That guy seems to know what he’s saying. I’ll pack my bags.” Just because you’re racist doesn’t mean you have to be ignorant. An informed racist is a better racist.

 – Kumail Nanjiani, 14 Oct 2017, from Saturday Night live


Ismael Loutfi

Here is Ismael Loutfi making his TV debut on the world famous American TV chat show Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I’m a Muslim. That hasn’t been fun. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. Last 16 years have been pretty stressful for us. I can’t watch the news, just the way they talk about us is so demeaning. The buzzwords they use, they’re always talking about moderate Muslims. That’s their go-to. They’re always like “Hey, I want to see one moderate Muslim. Show me one moderate Muslim denounce terror. I wanna see what it’s like…” Screw you dude! First of all, who came up with that term moderate Muslim? What an objectifying label to give to a billion and a half people. It’s like “Well, you got your moderate Muslims, your mild Muslims, your sweet-and-sour Muslims, you got your lemon pepper, your teriyaki.”

And also, we do denounce terror all the time but nobody puts a camera on that. Nobody wants to see people be moderate, that’s boring. You want to see people jump up and down and be crazy, that’s the whole point of the news system is just to sensationalize everything. It makes me so mad. I just want to blow some stuff up. I just want to…I get so angry! Anybody else have that instinct in their blood? I don’t know. I don’t know what that is. Probably nothing to worry about.

 – Ismael Loutfi, Oct 2017, from Jimmy Kimmel Live!


Khalid Rahmaan

A talented American comedian on the double meaning of the word Chad.

Do you guys think it’s weird that Chad is the whitest name ever, and the blackest place on the planet? No one in Chad has a friend named Chad. Being from Chad, West Africa is like being from Mohammed, Wisconsin.

My full name is Khalid Abdul Rahmaan. So obviously this is my going-away show.

My parents converted to Islam back in the 60s, because just being black people in the 60s wasn’t difficult enough. They had to get that negro extra credit.

I shouldn’t complain. It is tough being black and Muslim but I shouldn’t complain. My younger brother is black, gay, and Muslim. The day after the election I called him up and I said “Hey bro, you might want to drop one of those.”

 – Khalid Rahmaan


Joe Lycett

Currently one of the best British stand ups around, here is the always brilliant Joe Lycett, a non Muslim who understands and explains so eloquently the fine line between ‘terrorist’ and ‘knobhead’.

I want to talk about Birmingham because I am from Birmingham. I was watching Fox News the other week, the reputable news source that is Fox News! And they described Birmingham as “100% Muslim”. As-salaam-Alaikum. “Wa-laikum-Salaam” is what you say back, but don’t worry, we’ll work it out.

I was interested in that because they said “100% Muslim”. It is a sort of truth. There are a lot of Muslims in Birmingham. There are a lot of all cultures there. We are known for being multicultural. We are quite good at it. One of the most famous Muslims in Birmingham is Malala Yousafzai. I don’t know if people are familiar with her? Yes, she’s brilliant. If you don’t know who she is, she’s an 18-year-old schoolgirl who was shot at by the Taliban for wanting to be educated. She now goes to Edgbaston High School for Girls. It is a private school. I don’t think she pays the fees! I personally would hate to go to school with Malala Yousafzai. Can you imagine Show and Tell Day with Malala?

“OK, class, what have you brought in? Sally, let’s start with you.”

And Sally goes, “I’ve brought in a papier mache cat that I made”.

“OK, anyone else bring anything in? Malala, did you bring anything in?”

“This Nobel Peace Prize.”

“Sally…You’re a piece of shit.”

I’d hate to be a teacher, as well. You’re not going to tell Malala off for anything.

“What are you doing with that phone Malala?”

“Texting Barack Obama, actually, so…”

“Oh, sorry. Um, Sally…you’re a piece of shit.”

Poor Sally. No, I made her up. I was annoyed about that. I was annoyed when they said we were 100% Muslim, because when they say things like that, there is a subtext to that. What they are saying is that we should be worried about that, that there is something terrifying, frightening about Muslims. I think we have got a problem. I think we are using the word “Muslim” far too quickly to describe people doing atrocities, when they do not represent Muslims any more than I do. I think we should be using a more accurate word for those people, which I am going to argue is “knobhead”. It’s a political rally now.

There would be levels of knobhead. You would have a moderate knobhead, all the way up to fundamental knobhead. And if we all did it, the news would have to catch up. They would have to go, “Today, two knobheads bombed a car.” They would have to do it…No, I don’t have a problem with Muslims in Birmingham, at all. Happy to have them. I think they add to our city and to our culture.

– Joe Lycett, from the BBC TV show Live At The Apollo

RUSSELL BRAND AND THE DRUG OF CONNECTION

Not The Only One

I have always found Russell Brand to be an interesting sort of fellow. He is in a similar vein to the likes of Frankie Boyle and Charlie Brooker, satirists who think well beyond normal conventions, shining a much needed harsh light on our modern consumerist societies and our stagnant politicians. I have read his books My Booky Wook, Booky Wook 2, and Revolution, all strongly recommended.

Recovery

Brand has a new book out that I am looking forward to reading, Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions. As part of the promotional tour Brand did for this book, he appeared on the TV show Real Time With Bill Maher. He had the host, the guests, and the audience in fits of laughter as well providing deep insights into his own personal life:

In the interview Brand touches on subjects such as addiction and depression. These topics, along with the topics of loneliness, mental health, and suicide, are all unfortunately spread prominently across the news spectrum right now. With regards to all this, Richard Carlton-Crabtree, director of services with Insight Healthcare, provided the following stark reality of where society is right now:

The reality of it is that one in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK. Something we never hear is that we only expect to help 15 per cent of them…one in four of the UK’s adult population is roughly 13 million people. – Richard Carlton-Crabtree

It does really seem that these issues are everywhere right now…

Tuesday 10th October 2017 was World Mental Health Day.

Princes William and Harry, along with Kate Middleton, have been heavily involved in raising aware around mental health by promoting the Heads Together mental health campaign, the London Marathon’s charity of the year.

Recently the singer Sinead O’Connor posted a video online that offered raw insights into her daily battle to control her inner demons. Filmed in her hotel room in New Jersey, the weeping singer sobbed to the camera: “My entire life is revolving around not dying, and that’s not living.”

Other celebrities have also spoken about these issues, such as singer Selena Gomez, comedian Roseanne Barr, author Ruby Wax, boxer Frank Bruno, footballer Chris Kirkland, and actor David Harewood.

We also have continuous newspaper headlines such as British Teenagers Among Least Satisfied In Western World, Loneliness Is Harming Our Society. Your Kindness Is The Best Cure, and Man Down: Why Do So Many Suffer Depression In Silence? You need not search for too long to find such articles, especially in the age of Trump.

We have also seen the suicides of celebrities such as Robin Williams from a few years ago, to more recently Chris Cornell (lead vocalist for the rock bands Soundgarden and Audioslave) and Chester Bennington (lead vocalist for the rock band Linkin Park). I find it interesting that certain celebrities, including Kurt Cobain from over 20 years ago, were living their dreams, yet it seems the reality of that dream coming true did not fulfill expectations. Speaking about Bennington’s death, the journalist Richard Taylor said:

When you’re mentally ill, “normality” becomes meaningless and the world reflects the distorted and warped version of reality you project through bloodshot eyes…Suicide is the biggest killer of men in Britain between the ages of 20 and 50, but we seem only to talk about it when famous men die. – Richard Taylor

Aside from all this, it is the thoughts of Russell Brand that I find most interesting. Here is someone who has suffered from depression, anxiety, addiction, loneliness, and suicidal tendencies. Here is someone who has tried to find meaning and happiness in copious amounts of drugs, sex, money, and fame. None of these things fulfilled him in ways that made long lasting sense. Instead Brand has decided to focus on connecting with people through real emotions, “the drug of connection” as he describes it, something that seems to have worked for him.

Here are some short videos from Brand exploring in more detail some of the topics touched upon in this blog. Each video is interesting in its own right, but collectively they shed much needed sanitized light on ‘we’ as a society. Not sure if they are therefore enjoyable, but they are certainly enlightening…


Chris Cornell: Suicide Epidemic – Why?

Chester Bennington: What Does The Suicide Epidemic Say About Our Culture?

Sinead O’Connor: Do We Live In A Mentally Ill System?

Addiction Epidemic – Why Is The World In Pain?

Why Are Mental Health Issues Increasing?