TLDR is an internet acronym that stands for “too long; didn’t read”. So here I am hoping this blog post does not fall into that category. Thus we move quickly to another regular digest of interesting articles I have recently read online, even though some of them may not be so recent themselves.

We begin with a brilliant article from Haroon Moghul about Islam, love, and the Taj Mahal. The economist Thomas Friedman follows with a memo to Trump on Saudi Arabia. The Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid then speaks rather positively about death. Then we have Sunny Hundal writing about how the far right will eventually turn on the white people who currently support them. Will Oremus then explains how humans are to blame more than bots when it comes to spreading lies online. Sticking with this theme, we end with the controversial writer Kenan Malik and his brief history of fake news, starting with 17th century coffee houses.

Whilst I have selected my favourite quotes from these articles they are, as always, worth reading in full. Enjoy!

Islam Was A Religion Of Love, And The Taj Mahal Proves It

Haroon Moghul, 12 Feb 2016,

I propose we see the Taj Mahal as a vision of what Islam used to be, and what Islam could be, a building dedicated to love, and to love across boundaries that seem more like vast chasms today. Shah Jahan was a Sunni ruler from a Sunni dynasty. His beloved wife, however, was Shiite. Far from being doomed to fight, they fell in love. They married. They produced the next emperor. And they are now buried peacefully beside one another.

It might strike you as surprising that one of the most famous buildings in the Muslim tradition is a monument to love. What’s the first word you think of when you hear “Islam”? Go ahead, be honest. Probably, you didn’t think of “love.” It might be the last thing on your mind. Probably, the first words that you reflexively associate with Islam are the opposite. But there was a time, a very long time, when love, for friends, for intimates, and for God, was the central theme of the Muslim faith, and in the way some Muslims today say “Islam is a religion of peace,” they’d have said “Islam is a religion of love.”

The Taj Mahal is of course many things to many people. For my beloved wife, it’s an unfair marker to hold a husband to. (I swear I would if I could.) It should also be a monument to Sunni and Shiite harmony, a reminder of a time when the core of the Muslim faith was love: Love of a person for himself, for his family, for his neighbors, for his Prophet, for his God. A time that shall come again. When Islam can be progressive for its time, when we will make the world beautiful, when we can be unapologetically Muslim and shamelessly besotted, because God is beautiful, as Muhammad said, and loves beauty.

Memo To The President On Saudi Arabia

Thomas L Friedman, 06 Mar 2018,

When the Saudi ruling family — feeling the need to demonstrate greater piety after the 1979 takeover by Islamist zealots of the Grand Mosque in Mecca — took Sunni Islam down a much more puritanical path, right when Iran’s ayatollahs did the same with Shiite Islam, they changed the face and culture of Islam. And it was not for the better. The Saudis closed all cinemas, banned concerts and fun, choked off trends for women’s empowerment and modern education and spread an anti-pluralistic, misogynist, anti-Western form of Islam far and wide that created the ideological and financial underpinnings of 9/11, ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mohsin Hamid Q&A: “Death Can Do Us The One Service Of Treating Others Better”

Mohsin Hamid, 06 Mar 2018,

Are we all doomed? Individually, yes. As a species, no. All of us, individually, are going to die. That is horrifying. But it opens up the potential for compassion. We can see that every other human being faces the same terrible fate as we do. And we can begin to treat each other accordingly. With greater sympathy. Human history is likely to be a slow, sometimes appalling, often faltering march towards a world where people treat each other better than in the past. Death can do us that one service. So have hope.

White People Don’t Seem To Realise That Eventually The Far Right Will Come For Them Too

Sunny Hundal, 06 Mar 2018,

The wonderful thing about history is that sometimes it’s a guide to the future rather than a recording of the past. This is what worries me. A large number of white people in the west seem to have forgotten the far right will eventually come for them too. They will come for people like me first, of course, but eventually they will come for them as well.

Look, I get it. People are angry. That is usually the reason why they vote for people clearly unfit for the job. But you don’t put out a fire by throwing more fuel on it. The far right will come for people like me. They’ll come for Jews. They’ll come for gay people. They’ll come for the trade unionists, and so on. But then they’ll come for you. Their aim is to reshape society, not just make minor changes to foreign policy.

Your extremists will destroy you. They need power and they are insatiable. That’s why they are extremists, remember?

You can’t control extremists – you can only fight to keep them away from legitimacy.

Lies Travel Faster Than Truth On Twitter—And Now We Know Who To Blame

Will Oremus, 09 Mar 2018,

It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when some intelligent observers of social media believed that Twitter was a “truth machine”—a system whose capacity for rapidly debunking falsehoods outweighed its propensity for spreading them. Whatever may have remained of that comforting sentiment can probably now be safely laid to rest. A major new study published in the journal Science finds that false rumors on Twitter spread much more rapidly, on average, than those that turn out to be true. Interestingly, the study also finds that bots aren’t to blame for that discrepancy. People are.

They found that false rumors traveled “farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information,” but especially politics. On average, it took true claims about six times as long as false claims to reach 1,500 people, with false political claims traveling even faster than false claims about other topics, such as science, business, and natural disasters.

Fake News Has A Long History. Beware The State Being Keeper Of ‘The Truth’

Kenan Malik, 11 Feb 2018,

Before Facebook, there was the coffee house. In the 17th-century, panic gripped British royal circles that these newly established drinking salons had become forums for political dissent. In 1672, Charles II issued a proclamation “to restrain the spreading of false news” that was helping “to nourish an universal jealousie and dissatisfaction in the minds of all His Majesties good subjects”.

Now, 350 years on, legislators across the world are seeking to do the same. Last week, the House of Commons digital culture, media and sport committee flew to Washington DC to grill representatives of big tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google. The title of their session echoed Charles II: “How can social media platforms help stop the spread of fake news?”

Lies masquerading as news are as old as news itself. What is new today is not fake news but the purveyors of such news. In the past, only governments and powerful figures could manipulate public opinion. Today, it’s anyone with internet access. Just as elite institutions have lost their grip over the electorate, so their ability to act as gatekeepers to news, defining what is and is not true, has also been eroded.

There is another change, too. In the past, those with power manipulated facts so as to present lies as truth. Today, lies are often accepted as truth because the very notion of truth is fragmenting. “Truth” often has little more meaning than: “This is what I believe” or: “This is what I think should be true”.

Seventeenth-century coffee-house owners were forced eventually to accept that only “loyal men” should be licensed to run coffee houses and to promise to inform the king of anything “they know or hear said prejudicial to the government”. We should be careful what we wish for.




Another collection of comedy quotes? Really? Why? Glad you asked. Ideally what I would like to do is stimulate people intellectually. I would like every quote in this blog post to hopefully cause you to come away thinking about something new, something you maybe had never thought about, something you may have never even fathomed about. Until now.

That is what good comedy does. A good stand-up comedian will make you laugh, but a brilliant one will also make you think. And in these divisively dark times I feel like we need comedians to provide the much needed “pure golden light of life’s wondrous absurdity” (as the American comedian Desiree Burch profoundly said in a recent interview). So here, for your delectation and delight, for your intellectual pleasures, are 21 hand-picked comedy quotes, most of them around the theme of religion.

Also, in honour of the recently departed Ken Dodd, a true comedy legend, there are a few one-liners from the great man himself. Enjoy!

A Higgs Boson particle walks into a church. The priest says “Get out! We don’t allow your kind here.” The particles replies “But if you don’t have Higgs particles then how do you have mass?” – Anon

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are virtual currencies that combine everything you don’t understand about money with everything you don’t understand about computers. – John Oliver

How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? Nobody knows. It’s never been tried. – Ken Dodd

I do all my exercises every morning in front of the television. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Then the other eyelid. – Ken Dodd

I don’t mind when my jokes die because they go to heaven and get 72 virgin jokes. – Omar Marzouk

I love reading books. I always pick a familiar cafe to read in. I don’t trust new cafes. They fill me with uncertain tea. – Anon

I was surprised how British Muslims reacted to the Danish cartoons. I thought: “How can you get this worked up about a cartoon?” But then I remembered how angry I was when they gave Scooby Doo a cousin. – Paul Sinha

If we’re all God’s children, what’s so special about Jesus? – Jimmy Carr

I’m a Jew, by the way. It was my agent’s idea. – Simon Amstell

I’m quite a grumpy woman really. I’m quite tired, that’s the problem. And it’s weird being this tired because I mean I’m proper knackered. I’ve got a lot of make-up on my face to be honest. It’s like a burqa of foundation…on my face. Some days I wear a burqa. I think, “Sod it, I can’t work with this.” There’s loads of women round my way that wear burqas and they’re not all Muslim women, I’m telling you now. Some of them are women having a bad hair day that are like, “Right! Burqa day. I’m doing the school run. Get in the car!” So thank God for make-up. Honestly, I properly cake it on, you know. I’m not as close to you as you think I am, that’s how much make-up I’m wearing right now. – Kerry Godliman

Munira Ahmed

In America every other week there seems to be another anti-Trump demonstration. Yet he is still in power and he is still saying lots of bonkers nonsense. There are however a few moments of triumph. There was one moment that really amused me which was in 2017 when Trump tried to institute an anti-Muslim travel ban. So lots of Americans went on strike, lots of people demonstrated and they were carrying placards with images of a Muslim woman in a hijab which was an American flag. And this was driving the racists crazy. I don’t know why racists love flags. I saw one being interviewed and he said “They’re disrespecting the flag! They’re disrespecting the flag! How dare they put it on that woman’s head!” And I noticed behind him there was a poster of a stripper, and her bikini was an American flag. And so I thought when it’s on someone’s head you’re losing your mind, but when it’s on their genitals then that’s okay! – Daliso Chaponda

Irish people love Muslims. They have taken a lot of heat off us. Before, we were “the terrorists” but now, we’re “the Riverdance people”. – Andrew Maxwell

It is fitting that a story about the president having an affair with a porn star is struggling to hold our attention, because the news now has become like porn: we’re desensitized. These days, news wise, we can only get excited about Asian lesbians like Kim Jong Un. – from an edition of Saturday Night Live, 10 Mar 2018

Let me tell you what blasphemy is. It’s the idea there’s a superior being who can make the mountains, the oceans and the skies, but who still gets upset about something I said. He’s an all-powerful being, He’s just got self-esteem issues. – Reginald D Hunter

My agent died at 90. I always think he was 100 and kept 10% for himself. – Ken Dodd

My dad is Irish and my mum is Iranian, which meant that we spent most of our family holidays in customs. – Patrick Monahan

My dad knew I was going to be a comedian. When I was a baby, he said, ‘Is this a joke?’ – Ken Dodd

My favourite religious joke is by Woody Allen: “God is silent. Now if we can only get Man to shut up.” Like all great jokes it right-hands you with laughter while giving you a shooting pain in the solar plexus on behalf of the whole human race. – Ben Miller

Two guys came knocking at my door once and said: “We want to talk to you about Jesus.” I said: “Oh no! What’s he done now?” – Kevin McAleer

What Iran needs now is a more modern leader, a mullah lite. – Shappi Khorsandi

You could be running a wet t-shirt contest in a parking lot in Panama City, and if Trump showed up it would lower the tone. – Bill Maher


Omar Marzouk.jpg

Omar Marzouk is an Australian based Egyptian Muslim who makes some rather brilliant speeches about Islam. This blog post is not about him. Instead it is about another person with the exact same name. The other Omar Marzouk is a Danish based Egyptian Muslim who does some rather brilliant stand-up comedy. Omar the comedian was born to Egyptian parents in Copenhagen in 1973, which is where he also lives with his Danish wife Christine Gjerulff.

Marzouk is one of those bridge-building-comedians, someone who thinks despite our cultural and ethnic differences we are all the same and can laugh at the same things when they presented in the right way. As he says, “I use my comedy to build bridges between cultures.” In his quest to do exactly that he has performed at the Comedy Club in New York, the Camel Comedy Club in Tel Aviv, and the Club Comedy Store in London.

Just a few years ago he had a bit of an identity crisis, where he no longer identified as being Danish due to increased Islamophobia and racism in his home country. It got to a stage where, when travelling abroad, he would tell people he was from Egypt rather than Denmark. Thankfully however, by the looks of things this is something he seems to have resolved within himself as he is still in Denmark and he is still performing stand up.

In 2014 Marzouk did a one hour show at the Copenhagen Jazz House, where he mentioned quite a few interesting things about our perceived fears. Links to this performance are presented below. It should be noted that English is his second language, so he does struggle a wee bit every now and then with his choice of words, but overall this is a really interesting stand up routine. As always I have transcribed some of my favourite parts of the routine and, again as always, some of these quotes have been lightly edited for length and clarity, but their original intent hopefully still remains. Enjoy!

Arachnophobia is the biggest phobia there is, and yet most spiders are not dangerous. They’re like Muslims. It’s actually only a very small percentage of us that will kill you. It’s irrational to be scared of spiders, and Muslims, but yet we are. And fear is often irrational, we all have irrational fears.

Social fears and emotional fears are much stronger than physical fears. The only thing stronger than social fears and emotional fears are religious fears. If you are going to talk about fear you have to talk about religion. In my religion of Islam it is pretty simple: a true Muslim only fears God, we’re only supposed to fear God. And that’s why you’ve never seen a Muslim horror movie, because it wouldn’t work. You know the classic scene where the couple is lying in bed and the wife wakes up and says “Ali! Ali! I think there’s a three-headed alien monster in the basement.” Ali would wake up and say “So what? Are you more afraid of the three-headed alien monster than God? Go back to sleep.”

Horror movies don’t work in the Middle East. In Baghdad you don’t need a horror movie to feel terrified. You just walk outside.

I have drank alcohol. You know why I started drinking alcohol? I got so tired of my Danish friends calling me at three o’clock in the morning, because if you’re out drinking and you need a ride home, who do you call? And drunk people always shout. “OMAR! OMAR! WHERE ARE YOU?” And they have to tell you how pissed drunk they are. “I’m pissed drunk, man! Come pick me up. WHERE ARE YOU?!” “I’m standing right behind you dude, just put down the phone and I’ll drive you home.” I think that’s how most of us get into driving taxis. It kind of just dawns on you one night, “I should be making money off of this.”

Denmark is a small country of 5.5 million people. We’ve got democracy, welfare, and cable TV. We have nothing to fight for, nothing to be afraid of. We have free health care, we have free education, we have this system that secures the unemployed so almost nobody falls into economic despair. Most people in Denmark have nothing to fear at all, life is pretty secure and most people in Denmark are satisfied. So why start a revolution? Well, you see, that is the problem. If you feel satisfied all the time, you end up feeling nothing. I love Denmark, I think Denmark is an amazing country, but perhaps we’ve become too comfortable. Being too comfortable all the time is dangerous because you end up numb and feeling nothing. Being comfortable for a long period of time makes you emotionally numb…Being comfortable all the time isn’t a good thing. That’s why we like watching horror movies here in the rich, free, western world, because the feeling of being terrified for us is a luxury good. We have to invent stuff to feel fear, just so we can feel alive. Actually I think we’ve reached the point now where we’re starting to invent and imagine stuff that can scare us silly. Just read the front page of newspapers to know I’m right. They’re just trying to scare us now. Here’s an actual headline I saw a while ago, the headline said “Eggs can kill you!” You go “Really? Eggs are dangerous?” “Yes, we did some research and EGGS CAN KILL!” It’s so we all get that small shock every day when we open the fridge and go “Oh my God! One…two…three…there’s 12 of them. 12! And they’re brown! Must be a gang!”

In Denmark we don’t need a revolution against a dictator like Hosni Mubarak, we need a revolution against fear, and we have nothing to be afraid of. We’re just scared silly. That’s the revolution I want to start, a revolution against our silly fears.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear. Your bank and your insurance company are trying to sell you fear. Your doctor has a name and a diagnosis for your fears. The medical industry has pills for your fears. The beauty industry has Botox for your fears. The fashion industry has just the right clothes for your social fears. And are you afraid that your ass looks too big in those pants? Don’t worry because the food industry’s got a diet soft drink for your fears. And the tech industry knows that you’re afraid of missing out, but don’t worry because they have a brand new gadget for your fears. Even your local pet store has a watchdog for your fears. Your hardware store has a whole surveillance system for your fears. Your drug dealer has a joint for your fears. And your gun dealer…no matter how big your fear is, your gun dealer has just the right weapon that will take care of all of your fears. And somewhere out there there’s probably a comedian who wants to sell you a show all about your fears. EVERYBODY is trying to sell you fear!

I didn’t start doing stand-up comedy because I wanted to make money off of your fears. My business plan is jokes. My business plan is jokes for money, remember. But somehow after 9/11 I became famous in Denmark for telling jokes about terrorists. I became famous and I made a lot of money. I’m looking back at it now and maybe I was making money off of people’s fears. You can consider this show an apology.

Everybody is trying to sell you fear but the worst of them all is the news media and the politicians. The politicians have gone crazy with selling us fear here in the free Western societies. Politics used to be a contest of ideas and ideology. Not anymore. Today politics is a race of fear, whoever can make you the most scared wins. Vote for me because that guy is going to take your pension and your firstborn. No, no, you should vote for me because that guy is going to take away your free will and tax your soul. Politics is just a race of who can make us the most afraid. We’re not voting on which direction our society should take, we’re voting on who to be scared of. And it doesn’t really matter who wins an election anymore because nothing changes, because we don’t want change as a people. Change makes us uncomfortable. Too much change makes us scared and then we just become nationalistic or Republicans.

The war on terror has created so much fear of Muslims all over the Western world, all the way from the United States to Australia. Politicians are selling the voters fear of Muslims and immigrants. In this country of Denmark three elections have been won on creating fear of Muslims. It’s become so bad I think we Muslims are pretty close on taking over spiders as the number one phobia…It all started after 9/11. People became so afraid of Muslims that some people were talking about us as if we were vampires. “Don’t use garlic, it just attracts them!…Always carry a small piece of bacon in your pocket…If you have to run then run towards Mecca, it kind of confuses them…I’ve heard if you stab a Muslim in the heart with a knife made of bacon they turn to dust.”

Just before we invaded Iraq for the first time people in this country actually started questioning my loyalty to Denmark. And they would give me these weird questions like “Omar, imagine the Iraqi army was standing outside the borders of Denmark. Would you fight?” Honestly? No, I wouldn’t, because if the Iraqi army was outside the borders of Denmark then that means they’ve beaten every other army throughout Europe. We wouldn’t have a chance!

I have four brothers. My third brother is called Osama. Yeah. And Osama works as a flight mechanic. This is a true story. He works as a flight mechanic for Scandinavian Airlines. He doesn’t wear a name tag when he’s working…Nobody wants to be sitting in a plane seeing the pilot sticking his head out and going “Osama, did you fix the wings?”

I did a show in New York, which was weird. I was making fun of the whole war on terror…and a guy from the audience got so mad at me and in the middle of the show he just got up and said “Fuck you, man! Your country’s next!” I got scared and confused because I didn’t know if he meant Denmark or Egypt…Maybe he meant Ikea, I’m not sure. I’d love to see that on TV, George W Bush going “We know that the Ikeans have furniture of mass discomfort which can be assembled within 45 minutes…if you can read the instructions.”

Everybody was looking for Osama and finally they found him. In Pakistan. We Muslims knew he was in Pakistan all the time. We did. Denmark sent troops to Afghanistan. We knew he was in Pakistan. We sent troops to Afghanistan and I was sitting at home going “You’re getting warmer! You’re getting warmer!” But nobody listened! I knew he was in Pakistan because if there’s anybody that can make stuff disappear, it’s the Pakistanis. And I say this was the biggest respect for Pakistanis. Some of my closest friends are from Pakistan, I just haven’t seen them in many years.

They finally got Bin laden. I was glad when they shot Bin Laden because I thought maybe this fear of Muslims would decrease a bit. The only thing that pissed me off was when I saw Obama on TV telling the world that they have given Osama a traditional Muslim burial. They threw him in the sea! In the ocean! That’s not a tradition we Muslims have. We’re a desert people. Do you know how far we have to walk to get to the sea? We don’t throw anybody in the ocean.

The fear levels of Muslims actually dropped a bit after they shot Bin Laden. And actually at one point there was no fear of Muslims, because something special and terrible happened here in Scandinavia: Anders Breivik. Anders Breivik, a white Christian terrorist, killed 69 people on a deserted island. Scary shit! This was the biggest terror incident in Scandinavia and all Muslims were sitting at home going “Whew! That wasn’t us. That was not us. Habibi, we can go out tonight, it wasn’t us, it wasn’t us!”

Anders Breivik changed the face of fear, for a short while. It was the biggest terror attack in Scandinavia, a white Christian man…For a short period of time the face of fear changed. But not for long, because if you’re in the fear business you’re going to need a steady supply of fear. And nobody is as reliable as the Middle East when it comes to fear and terror. Bin Laden died but then…BAM! We got ISIS. ISIS scared the world silly with their beheadings. They don’t use airplanes, they use social media, which is a much more powerful weapon than airplanes because now fear is everywhere. On Facebook, on Twitter, on Tinder. And our media and our politicians are all too willing to sell us this fear. And maybe we need them to tell us who to be afraid of so we can feel safe. Because it’s only when you know in which direction to look for the danger do you then feel safe. But maybe we also end up looking the wrong way. My best example of this is the States. In the States there have been 35 school shootings. That’s not enough to ban semi-automatic weapons, but after 9/11 I can’t even bring a bottle of water on board a plane, for security reasons. I go “What are you afraid of? Are the pilots Gremlins? What are your actual fears?” I guess it’s easier to live with fear when you know who to fear, for then you can be happy. But it’s a false kind of happiness.



What with Trump becoming more unwoke day by day, I thought it best to round up a few interesting articles from the internet that will hopefully keep us all as woke as possible, albeit in a halal way. I have chosen the most relevant quotes from these articles, as well as providing links in case you feel the need to read the article in full (as usual all are strongly recommended).

We begin with the veteran Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee who, in a recent interview with the Guardian, gave her bleak assessment of where Britain currently is and where it is potentially heading. Depressing but all true nonetheless. We then move on to Claire Armitstead who counters this depression with suggestions that all is perhaps not lost. Next up is an article from Aymann Ismail all about the #MosqueMeToo movement. Whilst the overall article is a difficult read due to the subject matter, it does begin with an opening paragraph that I found rather uplifting. I also found a short YouTube clip from BBC News on the same subject.

Following this we have Steven Pinker on media distortion, Fareed Zakaria on the pessimism of the Middle East (along with an accompanying YouTube clip), and we end on attempts by Saudi Arabia to stimulate their economy by trying to reverse the trend of Saudis splurging their cash in neighbouring Dubai and Bahrain. Enjoy!

‘These Are The Darkest Days I Have Known’

Polly Toynbee, 24 Feb 2018,

There has never been an austerity like this in my life-time. If Thatcher’s 1980’s cuts seemed savage, I would never have guessed a future Tory party would go so much further than she dared, in shrinking the state, crushing local government, squeezing the NHS as never before, leaving schools bereft. As for the shock Brexit vote, it has split the country in half in ways it may take decades to repair, if ever, as it sends Britain into a downward spiral. These are the darkest days I have known – plenty to write about, but very hard to think of optimistic themes.

In An Age Of Anger And Cynicism, Let Me Make The Case For Worthiness

Claire Armitstead, 24 Feb 2018,

Consider the work that is currently going on in churches, mosques and synagogues to plug the chaotically widening gap between the haves and have-nots – here, now, in one of the richest countries in the world, in this age of austerity. I live close to the Finsbury Park mosque, where, in a spontaneous reaction to last year’s van attack, trestle tables were set up along the street for a communal feast to which everyone, regardless of colour or creed, was invited. Furniture and catering were no problem because feeding people is part of what members of the mosque – worthily – see as their mission. My local church hosts a weekly drop-in session for migrants that draws hungry people from across London and beyond, to eat food donated by local shops and cooked by local volunteers before sitting down to free help and advice from rows of (largely retired) lawyers, counsellors and health experts.

#MosqueMeToo Puts Muslim Women “Between A Rock And A Hard Place”

Aymann Ismail, 14 Feb 2018,

For Muslims who grew up in the West, a mosque can be the only place where you get to be yourself. As a member of a highly politicized minority group, being with other Muslims can feel like the only way to not have your identity assigned to you. Like other places of worship, a mosque is more of a multipurpose building: karate classes, basketball in the parking lot, you grow with the community of regulars. We celebrate holidays and birthdays together there, mourn those who passed together there. The mosque is my home away from home, the congregation is my extended family, and Muslims from other mosques feel like family I just haven’t met yet…As Muslims, we are religiously bound to protect one another.

The Media Exaggerates Negative News. This Distortion Has Consequences

Steven Pinker, 17 Feb 2018,

Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is…The impression that the news has become more negative over time is real…The consequences of negative news are themselves negative. Far from being better informed, heavy newswatchers can become miscalibrated. They worry more about crime, even when rates are falling, and sometimes they part company with reality altogether: a 2016 poll found that a large majority of Americans follow news about Isis closely, and 77% agreed that “Islamic militants operating in Syria and Iraq pose a serious threat to the existence or survival of the United States,” a belief that is nothing short of delusional.

There’s A Lot To Be Optimistic About These Days. And Then There’s The Middle East.

Fareed Zakaria, 15 Feb 2018,

There’s a lot to be optimistic about today. In almost every part of the world, economies are growing and war, poverty and disease are receding. But then there is the Middle East. Syria remains a collapsed country; more than 5 million of its people have already fled. Yemen is now the site of the world’s worst famine, and the war there seems unlikely to end anytime soon. Iraq, barely recovered from its own civil war and battle with the Islamic State, estimates it needs about $100 billion for reconstruction — money it does not have. And the danger of greater conflict in the region seems ever-present. We are now seeing fighting between Turkey and American proxies, and fire exchanged between Israel and Syria. Recently, U.S. airstrikes killed perhaps dozens of Russian mercenaries in Syria, a worrisome escalation for the former Cold War adversaries.

Saudi Arabia To Spend Billions On Expanding Entertainment Sector

Agence France-Press, 23 Feb 2018,

Saudi Arabia has announced plans to spend billions on building new venues and flying in Western acts, in a total overhaul of its entertainment sector that would have been unthinkable not long ago. Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging program of social and economic reforms driven by its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

Hundreds of new companies had sprung up over the past year, registering for licences to take advantage of the budding sector…Authorities have also announced plans to lift a decades-old ban on cinemas this year, and about 300 are expected to open by 2030…The newfound openness, which includes plans to allow women to drive from June this year, has been hailed by some as a crucial liberalisation of Saudi society.

The reforms are part of Prince Mohammed’s ambitious “Vision 2030” program, which seeks to diversify the Saudi economy as it reels from a slump in energy prices, and the entertainment sector is seen as a potential source of growth. Saudis splurge billions annually on movies and visits to amusement parks in the neighbouring tourist hubs of Dubai and Bahrain, which is accessible by a land causeway…The goal to keep Saudis – more than half of whom are under 25 – spending their disposable income at home is part of a wider campaign called “Don’t travel”.


Hamza ISIS

In September of 2014 my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf gave a Friday sermon about ISIS titled The Crisis Of ISIS. The 38 minute lecture was an impassioned plea from one of the most prominent scholars in the Muslim world about how ISIS are not Islamic. Part of what he said included:

This is madness, complete insanity, it’s unbelievable…And it’s all just vengeance. It has nothing to do with Islam. These people have nothing to do with Islam. And I’ll say it right here. They have nothing to do with Islam. These people have nothing to do with this religion…They’re killing Muslims…And don’t be fooled by their piety…These people are not from the Prophet, they have nothing to do with the man who was sent as a mercy for all the world. And the fact that they are in any way, shape, or form associated with this religion is a great tragedy…These people are shayateen (devils). It’s plain and simple. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, referring to ISIS

The sermon went viral, especially in the Middle East after it was translated into Arabic. Millions have now watched excerpts in which the Shaykh openly weeps as he holds up his hands and asks Allah not to blame other Muslims “for what these fools amongst us do.”

By waging this theological battle with ISIS Shaykh Hamza clearly stoked their anger because the group ordered a death threat against him, which they made initially in their English online magazine Dabiq (not sure if Dabiq will ever be featured as a ‘guest publication’ on the BBC TV quiz show Have I Got News for You). In response to the death threat Shaykh Hamza said, in an interview with Fareed Zakaria on CNN, that his lecture bothered ISIS because it was “a little swat to the hornets’ nest.” So seriously was this threat from the hornets’ nest taken that the FBI actually went to his home late one night to discuss safety measures with him.

Also in 2014 the Christian German writer and journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer became the first western journalist allowed to enter ISIS-controlled Syria and Iraq. In the summer of 2014 Todenhöfer sent a message on Facebook to more than 80 German ISIS soldiers asking whether he could visit the ISIS fighting cadre. His goal was to understand their motivations. In September Abu Qatadah, a 31-year-old German who worked for ISIS media, answered the message. They then had further Skype discussions. Finally, Todenhöfer received a document from the Caliphate guaranteeing his safety. So, in October of 2014 Todenhöfer travelled to ISIS-controlled territory, gaining unprecedented access to the so-called Islamic State. The then 74 year old was accompanied by his filmmaker son, Frederic. Both of them spent 10 days with ISIS, and both of them somehow made it back alive.

Frederic And Jurgen In Mosul

Frederic and Jurgen in Mosul…

Todenhöfer used this unique opportunity to expose the apocalyptic vision of ISIS for the world and to document everyday life in the cities it controls. He found a population terrified into submission by beheadings, enslavement and torture, and an organisation unwavering in its commitment to its divine mission: to spread fear and violence throughout the world, no matter the cost. The result off all this effort was the brilliant documentary Inside IS: Ten Days In The Islamic State. Released in 2016 and running at just over 50 minutes, Inside IS gives an extraordinary view into the inner workings of ISIS, laying bare its nightmarish doctrine, its terrifying dreams of world domination, and the vicious cruelty suffered by those living within its borders.

Todenhöfer was clearly scarred by his findings, which is why he sought advice from one Shaykh Hamza Yusuf on what to make of ISIS and how to defeat them, which is why the last 13 minutes or so of the documentary revolve around an interview with Shaykh Hamza and Todenhöfer, who was clearly impressed with the Shaykh because his interview ends with him saying:

Shaykh Hamza is the kind of man I have met for over fifty years in the Muslim world. This kind of integrity and good character is what I hope will be passed on to our young generations. – Jürgen Todenhöfer, speaking about Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Straight after saying these kind words, Todenhöfer ends the whole documentary with this profound statement:

It seems to be so easy to brainwash young people. To tell them they’re doing something great in the ‘Islamic State’. And to persuade them that they are fighting for Islam. And they are fighting against Islam. They are the worst enemies of Islam in our days. For me the Islamic State has as much to do with Islam as rape has to do with love. Nothing. – Jürgen Todenhöfer

Presented below is a selection of quotes from this interview, all said by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. Please note that some quotes have been adapted slightly just so they read better when written down. Anyways, enjoy!

Inside IS

ISIS said there would be a reward for somebody to kill me. So I am a target for ISIS. The reason for this is I gave a khutbah, which is a Friday sermon, and I think it just bothered them, because my argument was they had nothing to do with Islam. ISIS are literally a statistically insignificant number of people and yet they’re claiming that they represent the true Islam. They don’t represent my Islam and they don’t represent the Islam of the vast majority of Muslims around the world. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The propaganda of ISIS creates a gross distortion in the mind of Western people because that’s all they see. Also, since we’re living in an age, to use a quote from the French philosopher Guy Debord, the age of spectacle, so the more dramatic you can do something the more media attention it will get. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

If you take Germany for example, there’s about five million Muslims in Germany today. What we know of, less than a thousand have gone to Iraq and Syria to fight. So if you just take those numbers you’re dealing with point zero two percent of the Muslim population. It almost doesn’t register statistically and yet if you watch German media you’re going to assume that every one of those five million German Muslims is a potential terrorist. And this is despite the fact that ISIS, the State, has told people you have to come. So people aren’t obeying them. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

The word “war” in Arabic (“harb”) is a negative term in the Qur’an. Jihad does not mean war, jihad means struggle. The greater struggle is to struggle against the soul, against the low qualities of the soul. And the lesser jihad is the struggle against enemies that are trying to conquer your land or something like that. The verse in the Qur’an that gave permission to fight, which is in Surah Al-Hajj, it’s the 22nd chapter of the Qur’an, the verse (number 39) actually says “Permission (to fight) is granted to defend themselves because they have been fought (against).” And then it says (in verse 40) “And had it not been some people defending other people, churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques, where in God’s name is mentioned, much would have been destroyed.” And so the very reason (originally) for jihad was to protect religious communities. So self-defence is allowed in Islam, but rebellion is not, because the idea is that even a tyrannical government is better than anarchy. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

We’re here in Paris, we’re sitting in a cafe, we feel safe. But there are people that actually believe that they can simply come to France, take a visa, and they can disregard the laws of the land. In Islamic law if you come into a land you have a contractual agreement to obey the laws. If you break those laws you’re a criminal, and this opinion is agreed upon by the majority consensus of Muslim scholars. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

A caliphate would not be the solution to the problems brought on by ISIS for the Muslim world. Omar, the second caliph, said that if anybody claims to be a caliphate, don’t take his allegiance, because a caliphate has to be an agreement of the (majority of) Muslims. Why can’t I declare a caliphate? Right now I’m the caliph! “California” comes from the Spanish word “Caliph-ornia”, the land of the caliph. This is historical fact. It is the land of the caliph. So I’ll declare the caliphate in California and Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi (the leader of ISIS) is not the caliph, I’m the caliph. So now everybody has to migrate to California and take allegiance with me. This is absurd! Who would accept that? – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Like most people I only see what’s being shown to me, but ISIS have released several things (videos) that have (clearly) indicated to me that they’re cruel (especially to prisoners of war). Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, said that since the Prophet Muhammad rebuked Khalid for mistreating prisoners, no Muslim has ever mistreated prisoners. So there’s a founding father of America who knew more about Islam that these people (ISIS), because you can’t kill a prisoner, you can’t behead these journalists. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

In the entire biography of the Prophet there’s not one case where he forced anybody to believe in his religion. And he said that God will give you with gentleness what He will never give you with violence. It’s not to say that Islam doesn’t have a martial spirit, it doesn’t have the idea of self-defense. That’s all true, but at its essence Islam is a merciful thing. And so when there’s no mercy in something, it’s not Islamic. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

How would I defeat ISIS? ISIS is an ideological movement and so it is made up of ideas, and those ideas have to be combated with ideas. You cannot bombard ideology. It is unjust and it is immoral to bombard victims in this situation, most of which are civilians, women and children. You have to bombard the young people with ideas. Really. You will not reach all of these ISIS fighters, but I think you will reach some of them. There’s a group in Toronto that were plotting this terrorist action. They were arrested because of an informer. They are all in prison. I got a letter from one of them who was introduced to my tapes in prison and he was saying how ashamed he felt that he had disgraced the religion of Islam, in this long letter to me, and that he had been tricked and fooled by this ideology. So a lot of these are young people that have never been exposed to real Islam. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. We have to illuminate ourselves and then help to illuminate others. This is really I think at the essence of what makes us human. – Shaykh Hamza Yusuf


Trevor Hand

Way back in early 2009 the American journalist David Sirota wrote columns in the Huffington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle about the concept of ‘fake outrage’, where people feign public anger at a non-issue while privately being somewhat guilty themselves. So not only is the outrage fake, so is the issue.

Examples given by Sirota of incidents that caused fake outrage included President Obama (remember him?) being driven around in a limo, John McCain wearing expensive shoes, Michael Phelps smoking some weed at a private party (even though nearly half of Americans have allegedly smoked pot), and he also mentioned the following:

A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing “family values” goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton’s sex tape…and then keeps spending billions on pornography. – David Sirota

Sirota went on to write about how there is a “Fake Outrage Machine that warps our political discourse and ultimately our public policy.” He also begins and ends the articles with the following:

Welcome to a nation now addicted to fake outrage — a nation that feeds on made-up controversies about total non-issues…Our addiction is to the same high that every pothead craves: the high of escapism. Nerves fried from orange terror warnings, Drudge Report sirens and disaster capitalism’s roller-coaster economics, our narcotic of choice is fake outrage – and it packs a punch. It gets us to turn on the television, tune in to the latest manufactured drama, and drop out of the real battle for the republic’s future. – David Sirota

RIP Satire

And all this well before we entered the era of Trump! Now that we find ourselves well and truly living in this nail-biting era of the Donald, what of fake outrage now? What levels of crazy has it reached? Well, for one thing it has well and truly infiltrated the world of satire and comedy. As a result many people have commented on how satire may indeed be dying. Writing for the BBC Nicholas Barber asks if we have “lost our sense of humour” due to audiences being “so sensitive.” And here we have Emma Burnell lamenting about the failure of modern political satire:

Modern satire only really speaks to the audience it makes comfortable rather than challenging the establishment. Satire hasn’t had any real “effect” on political culture for decades…Laughing at the establishment not only doesn’t have the shock value it once had, it can actively empower those currently leading the world in an “anti-establishment” populism. – Emma Burnell

Stewart Lee, arguably Britain’s finest stand-up comedian, recently said something similar about the power hungry Tory politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, a man who is mocked by many but seems to take all insults in his stride. Lee poetically bemoans that:

Satire only makes Jacob Rees-Mogg stronger…You cannot hurt the feelings of the honourable member for the 18th century. He ingests our insults and owns them…You have nothing. Your arrows of satire are blunt before him and your broken spears sleep in your hands, clawed uselessly into the shape of decades of lunchtime pints…You cannot hurt his feelings. He admits to none. You may as well stand in an aquarium hurling insults at an eel or swear at a chutney. – Stewart Lee

This decline in the power of satire maybe due to audiences being more sensitive (hyper-sensitive?), more ideologically divided, and people being more cocooned in which ever echo chamber they have unwittingly climbed into. It may also be down to increased political correctness which, according to Jessica Brown, “is forcing more comics to delicately tip-toe around issues of race, class and sexuality…Audiences no longer pick up on the nuances of jokes.”

This loss of comedic nuance is something that other writers have also picked up on. Here’s Nicholas Barber again:

Nobody seems to be able to tell the difference between a racist joke and a liberal joke that comments on racism. The condemnation is harder and colder now, too. Someone whose joke lands badly is being treated with the same ferocity as a racist cop in Texas. They’re treated as if their secret evil has been uncovered, but some misjudged gag at a comedy club is not the clue to someone’s secret evil. Young people have decided it is, but it’s not. – Nicholas Barber

Internet Outrage

Adding to all this is the fact that we are all online now, making it easier to share your outrage. British comedian Gina Yashere, who now lives and works in the US but began her career in the UK, recently argued on BBC radio that there’s been a “big shift in everybody getting offended about everything”. She said social media has amplified how audiences respond when they hear something they don’t like. “Usually, when people were offended they walked out and told their friends and family and that was the end of it. Now, everybody has an opinion and everybody has to let everybody else know what this opinion is and something has to be done about it.”

This zero tolerance approach to anything you find disagreeable even in the slightest is why you have controversies surrounding the likes of Sarah Silverman, Saturday Night Live, and the British comedian Andrew Lawrence (there is a brilliant documentary about Lawrence by Sky TV called The Outcast Comic, well worth watching if you get the chance).

Go back a few decades and you realise that the over-enthusiastic Ben Elton failed to bring down “Mrs Thatch”, Rory Bremner failed to stop the Iraq war, and (let’s face it) all of the comedians alive today who are doing jokes about Trump, which is most of them, will not bring down his presidency. Not only that, Trump and the fog of madness (or the “haze of bullshit” as author Johann Hari puts it) that surrounds him has made it very difficult for comedians to put their best satirical foot forward, a point depressingly noted by some comedians:

The political situation has been so stupid now, for so long, it seems beyond satire. In print, and on stage, I reach for ever more desperate methods to mock it. – Stewart Lee, Jan 2018

2017 made it too easy to write satire for comedians. We are very creative people. We don’t like it when the news story can just be said and you think it’s a joke. So myself and all other comedians hope that 2018 will be a year where satire is harder to write. – Daliso Chaponda

What we have seen so far of 2018 suggests that Chaponda and others will continue to find it too easy, or too hard depending on their perspective, to write satire. Despite this difficulty we must keep comedy and satire alive, we must keep laughing, and surely the main reason as to why is given by Harry Shearer (who does many of the voices in The Simpsons):

Good satire is the greatest weapon against arseholes, and the world is full of arseholes. – Harry Shearer

Well said that man. And nodding in agreement with Shearer is the current godfather of American satire Bill Maher who recently said that:

In 2018 it’s more important than ever that we ALL KEEP LAUGHING! The nothing-is-funny-people are trying to take over the world and we can’t let them. – Bill Maher

I too am hoping that these people fail in their bid to take over the world. With that in mind, presented below in full is an article written in 2015 by the American comedian Jim Norton. Norton was writing about the fake outrage, or the “Manufactured Outrage” as he likes to call it, in response to a Twitter storm that erupted because of something or other that the South African comedian (and current host of The Daily Show) Trevor Noah had said. Details of the storm are not as important as the reaction, which clearly had a vitriolic effect on Norton, enough for him to seriously and hilariously put pen to paper. In the article he wrote he defends his fellow comedian from the backslash he faced, and he also discusses how certain parts of society are becoming more and more superficially enraged by satire. Anyways, enjoy!

Trevor Noah Isn’t The Problem. You Are.

Jim Norton, 01 Apr 2015,

Jim Norton

People say that Americans trends are transient, but the one activity we never seem to tire of is being outraged. Boy, do we love it! We simply can’t seem to get enough of that rush we feel when something offends us. It’s like the dopamine drip we get from that first drink or the first drag of a cigarette after getting off a cross-country flight. And what is our favorite thing to be outraged over? Well, it’s certainly nothing petty, like homelessness, or the fact that every single person we elect to public office is a manipulative, groveling, poll-obsessed liar. Nope. We’re not stupid enough to waste our energy on such nonsense. We save our collective outrage for the really important stuff, like things comedians say.

Which brings us, of course, to Trevor Noah, our guest star on this week’s edition of Manufactured Outrage. When Comedy Central named Trevor as Jon Stewart’s successor, our trusty, tireless brigade of social-justice warriors immediately went to work digging through his tweets and stand-up to find something, anything to be upset about. Much to their relief, Trevor didn’t disappoint. Being a working comedian, he’d made plenty of jokes over the years that a susceptible person could pick up, blow the dust off and aim at themselves to achieve martyrdom.

Trevor, while tweeting things with the intention of being funny, had gone…yes, you guessed it – over the line! (Click here for dramatic organ music.) In his rush to be funny, he had broken what has become the new golden rule in American public life, which is to never say anything (or, God forbid, joke about anything) that may be deemed even remotely offensive or upsetting by any segment of the population for any reason. Trevor forgot that in the new millennium, there is a seemingly endless checklist of subject matter that has been deemed inappropriate to address with humor. And by no means is that checklist final; it’s constantly changing and morphing and contradicting itself without warning.

He also neglected to take into account that Western culture as a whole has become an increasingly reactionary mob of self-centered narcissists who all have their own personal lines drawn in the sand. A comedian is fine unless he crosses their particular line, which, of course, in the mind of a self-centered narcissist, is the only line that matters.

Being outraged and upset and feeling bullied or offended are not only things we enjoy, they’re also things we have become thoroughly addicted to. When we can’t purposefully get our feelings hurt by a comedian, we usually find another, albeit less satisfying, source of indignation. A few of the old stand-byes are sports announcers, radio hosts, Twittering athletes and paparazzi-hating actors. These are always great sources to look to when we need to purposefully upset ourselves. And make no mistake about it: Upsetting ourselves on purpose is exactly what we are doing. At least that’s what I hope we are doing. Because the other alternative is that Americans have collectively become the most hypersensitive group of whining milksops ever assembled under one flag. I find this second choice to be particularly humiliating, so I opt for the first. I choose to believe that we are addicted to the rush of being offended, the idea of it, rather than believing we have become a nation of emasculated children whose only defense against an abyss of emotional agony is a trigger warning.

The image people have of comedians staring defiantly over a stationary line of good taste is simply inaccurate. We don’t approach this line, put our toes over it arrogantly and then scamper back to safety. The line doesn’t exist. The correct image for people to have is one of a circle, with a comedian standing in the middle of it, surrounded by a myriad of races, religions, social beliefs, sacred cows and political ideologies. And in these groups are endless numbers of sub groups and personal boundaries. There is simply no way to consistently do the type of comedy that addresses these things without upsetting somebody. No matter which direction you turn to aim the joke, someone is getting hit. And while the person who has been hit jumps up and down and exaggerates their injuries, everyone else in the circle is telling them to shut up and learn to take a joke. Until they themselves get hit.

Trevor Noah is a great, relevant young comic, and Comedy Central is smart to stand by him. I read the tweets he was “under fire” for, and some were funny, some weren’t. The thread that connected them all for me is the embarrassment I feel for anyone claiming to be offended by them. They weren’t vicious or written to be harmful. And everyone reading them knows that. But knowing his tweets weren’t intended to be harmful isn’t important when people who list ‘victim’ as their occupation smell blood in the water. Because their outrage is a lie and their motives are transparent. They are simply using his tweets to get their dopamine drip.


Migrant Child

I was recently watching the TV program The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, as I often do, and the special guest on that particular episode, chef and author Anthony Bourdain, was talking about how he loves to share with others the things he likes:

I am passionate to the point of being evangelical about things that I love, that give me pleasure and make me excited. – Anthony Bourdain

This made me realise that I too am passionate to the point of being evangelical about stand-up comedy, which is perhaps why I keep blogging the way I do. And being the stand-up comedy junkie that I am, over the Christmas and New Year period I indulged in a little stand-up comedy (watching, not performing). In many of the performances I noticed a strong comedic emphasis on immigration, race, and nationality, no doubt fuelled by Trump, Brexit, and certain right-wing media outlets.

These comedians were using their platform to change perceptions. Comedy may not cause you to agree with what or who you are listening to, but it may help you to understand a different point of view. So the comedians mentioned below will hopefully help us all understand some of the many different perspectives that are out there, not just the ones we currently hold.

The understanding of different perspectives is desperately needed when it comes to immigrants. Whether you call them migrants, illegal immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, or something more derogatory, currently there are over 65 million of them worldwide, more than the entire population of Britain. These people are desperate for a better life and the myriad issues surrounding them are some of the main driving forces affecting global politics today. A recent cover of the New Statesman magazine spoke of this “Great Migration,” this “mass movement of people,” as being “the 21st century’s most revolutionary force.”

New Statesman Migration

In a recent article the Chinese artist and political activist Ai Weiwei spoke from his personal lifelong experience of what it means to be a refugee:

I was a child refugee. I know how it feels to live in a camp, robbed of my humanity. Refugees must be seen to be an essential part of our shared humanity…From my youth, I experienced inhumane treatment from society. At the camp we had to live in an underground dugout and were subjected to unexplainable hatred, discrimination, unprovoked insults and assaults…I remember experiencing what felt like endless injustice. In such circumstances, there is no place to hide and there is no way to escape. You feel like your life is up against a wall, or that life itself is a dimming light, on the verge of being completely extinguished. Coping with the humiliation and suffering became the only way to survive…

The refugee crisis is not about refugees, rather, it is about us. Our prioritisation of financial gain over people’s struggle for the necessities of life is the primary cause of much of this crisis. The west has all but abandoned its belief in humanity and support for the precious ideals contained in declarations on universal human rights. It has sacrificed these ideals for short-sighted cowardice and greed.

Establishing the understanding that we all belong to one humanity is the most essential step for how we might continue to coexist on this sphere we call Earth. I know what it feels like to be a refugee and to experience the dehumanisation that comes with displacement from home and country. There are many borders to dismantle, but the most important are the ones within our own hearts and minds – these are the borders that are dividing humanity from itself.

 – Ai Weiwei, 02 Feb 2018,

Powerful words indeed and below are hopefully more powerful words related to this topic, taken from stand-up comedians from around the world. As always, each quote is well worth reading in full. Enjoy!

Britain is a first world country. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better than this. People are nice here. Racists are nicer to minorities here then Romanians are to each other. – Radu Isac

I live in Iran. I have a friend in Canada. He always call me at 3AM and asks, “What’s the time difference between Canada and Iran, anyway?” I tell him it’s about 50 to 100 years. – Siavash Safavi

I live in the UK now. I moved to the UK from Romania two years ago. I basically moved here because I want to spend the next part of my life trying to get a couple of more citizenships. That’s what the young smart consumer like me should do. I really feel like having only one government for all my governing needs, that sounds like communism. I need to let the free market decide what nationality I am. So for now I’m British. But don’t worry, the free market is going to point me in a new direction soon. – Radu Isac

I really love living in this country because people are more laid back and relaxed than people back home in Japan. It is nice when things are so organised but that’s just because Japanese people are living busy lifestyles. They don’t have time to mess about! That’s why everything is needed to be operated efficiently, but I don’t want to live like a robot. And there is one word, one beautiful English word I love, and we don’t have this word in Japanese. It is “ish.” It is very pure. So I decided to bring this “ish” concept back home, so the last time I went to Japan I said to my mum “Let’s meet up at one-ish.” But because we don’t have this word I said to her “Let’s meet up between 1.05 and 1.25.” I saw her eyes, they were filled with confusion…and rage. It didn’t work! I believe this “ish” culture began a long time ago and it is in people’s blood. That’s why people are called British. – Yuriko Kotani

I’m a liberal myself, but in Romania. Out here I’m a conservative. That makes sense. The Romanian liberal is basically a UK conservative. It changes depending on where you go in the world. Again, it’s the same as if you guys went to Sweden, you’d be like Nazis there. It keeps changing, it’s not the same. – Radu Isac

It’s been a big year for Malawi, where I am from, because Madonna adopted another two babies. She’s on four! I feel like a failure because I am Malawian and I have zero Malawian babies, she has four. I need to get my act together. But also, when I do that joke, whenever I make fun of Madonna’s adoptions, people think I am criticising it. I actually think it’s an amazing thing, adoption is a wonderful thing and more people should do it. And I also don’t understand why we hide adoptions. People don’t tell children they’re adopted. It’s not a secret, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the opposite, it’s something to be proud of. Because if you are adopted you are one of the only children on the planet who knows 100% that your parents actually wanted you. They filled out forms. I’ve never heard that Sunday morning hangover story, “Me and the wife got so drunk last night…we ended up in an orphanage…we got two.” – Daliso Chaponda

My name is Sindhu. In the early versions of Microsoft Word the autocorrect used to call me “sand hog.” So I had to come up with a way to deal with this problem, so I started to introduce myself to people here. I would say “Hello, my name is Sindhu, rhymes with Hindu, which I am so it’s convenient.” And most English people used to think “Did she just bring up religion? Why? This has gotten so scary so quickly.” And they would just make an excuse and leave. But those that remembered really got on board. They’d say “Mate! Sindhu the Hindu!” Yeah, a little bit extreme but I’ll take it because they’ll always remember my name. – Sindhu Vee

One of the things I like about where we live is it’s very multicultural. I think that’s one of the brilliant things about London. I think multiculturalism is something we really have to fight for. The school my kids go to, it’s a really nice school and it’s very diverse. We have a mums’ night out once a month and all the mums from the school go. And there are women there from every economic background, every race, every religion. And we have a fantastic time and the Muslim mums drive us home. – Lucy Porter

There was a thing I didn’t like about the Brexit vote that you guys just had. I hated how the whole country sort of assumed that immigrants like it here. We don’t. If you guys want to know how Romanians feel when they come to the UK, it’s basically exactly how you guys feel when you go to Sweden or Norway. You go there and you look around and the whole country is better than your country. They have better stuff than you do. They’re better looking than you are. Somehow in the back of your head you go “Ach, I’d rather have Manchester. Those happy Swedish people creep me out.” That’s how we feel about you guys. You’re friendly and creepy. – Radu Isac

We’re always accusing the United States of not knowing but I don’t think that’s fair, because it’s not their fault. Look at their origin story. The place only exists because the guy did not know where he was going. – Sindhu Vee

British people have become so emotional post-Brexit. Oh my God! Everybody’s freaking out, everybody’s scared of immigrants, everybody’s like “Oh my God! All these immigrants are coming here to change the British way of life.” No! It’s not our priority. You can just imagine a man coming from Gabon, walking across the Sahara desert, crossing the Pyrenees, camping in Calais, jumping a lorry to get here just to say “Right you lot, no more fish with your chips.” He’ll be ringing his pregnant wife in Gabon, “Mushy peas is next.” It’s incredible! And your leaders are telling you that immigrants are coming here to change the British way of life. Who do you think we are? Colonialists? It is truly incredible. People are freaking out, people are saying things like “We want Britain to go back to what it used to be before.” And I’m like how far back do you want to go? Like BC? Before curry? – Njambi McGrath

I am from Kenya, I was born in Kenya. Do you British people remember Kenya? Of course Kenya was a British colony and actually Kenya and Britain went to war. But you don’t know about this war because we won. That’s why you don’t celebrate it. – Njambi McGrath

I grew up in Kenya and when you grow up in Africa you don’t actually know how we are portrayed by the Western media. It is shambolic! It is so awful. What’s up with the flies? Every picture you see of an African they’ve got flies all over their face. Do you know how hard it is to maintain that fly look? You literally have to be wearing marmalade all day. I grew up on a farm in Kenya. I never had flies all over my face. I ate them. – Njambi McGrath

Now that I’ve travelled a little bit I have realized that attitudes to education vary, especially when it comes to university education. In America parents tend to start saving for their kids, tuition fees, the moment the kid is born. In Britain the attitude is pretty much: we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But African parents are like: there might not be a bridge. – Njambi McGrath

When I was in New York I got to see the sights. It was pretty awesome. I got to see the Statue of Liberty. If you never seen the Statue of Liberty, it’s a female figure with headgear and long flowing robes, which is probably why the French got rid of it as they thought she was a Muslim. And that’s most likely why they kept it on an island. Because France is leading the way. Backwards. Because France has banned the full face covering and we know that America would never follow suit because the KKK would never put up with it. – Njambi McGrath

You have all these TV commercials that are truly awful. And there’s always a kid and he’s always drinking dirty water. And they’re always saying something like “This is Inkrumba. He’s 2 years old and he’s drinking dirty water that’s going to kill him.” And I’m like “So stop him! Don’t just stand there filming him.” And there are commercials that don’t even make sense, like those long-running commercials that say something like this, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life.” You guys need to stop teaching Africans how to fish. Most of Africa is desert. Now there are a lot of very frustrated African fishermen in the Sahara. – Njambi McGrath

I absolutely love the flag of St George because it’s a first-class burglar deterrent. “I’m not going anywhere near that one, it’s some nutter’s house.” – Henning When

If you want to have success as a stand-up here in Britain, all you need to do is loads of swearing. In Germany we don’t swear at all. Reason being, things work. That isn’t even a joke. – Henning Wehn

I’m not an immigrant. There is absolutely no hardship in my story. I always thought, “Nah, I’m not an immigrant because there are absolutely no expectations back home.” It wasn’t that people back home were going, “Ooh, let’s hope Henning succeeds in Britain so we can afford a second goat.” There was nothing riding on it one way or the other. I cannot possibly be an immigrant, I have never used Western Union! Now that is surely conclusive proof! Now, this might be a technicality, but I always thought to qualify as an immigrant you had to move somewhere better. Moving somewhere worse is what I associate with becoming an expat. Or in more extreme cases a relief worker. – Henning Wehn

The citizenship test. That’s essentially a high-stakes pub quiz. A high-stakes pub quiz where the winner gets a passport, rather than some low-quality meats. – Henning When

The vast majority of foreigners in this country are economic migrants. And it’s become a little bit of a dirty word, and I understand why because let’s be honest, these economic migrants, they do ruin it for the British workforce. You don’t have to agree with me openly on this one, but everybody knows I’m spot-on. Economic migrants, they do ruin it for the British workforce. Turning up in the morning on time, sober, wanting to work. What’s wrong with you? Call in sick! Assimilate, you bastard! What do you mean “trying to better yourself”? You make me sick! – Henning Wehn

I like coming to England, this is a cool country. I do enjoy coming here, mainly because the cops here have no guns. I feel like I’m on vacation. I’m serious. I get to do things here I would never do at home. I get to do things like move. – Orlando Baxter

My name is Orlando and if you can’t tell by my accent, I’m black. I know that’s obvious to a lot of people in here but in America Orlando is a very Hispanic name, so I get confused for being Hispanic all the time. It’s uncomfortable. I’ll be like “Hi, my name is Orlando.” They’ll be like “Orlandooooo! Que paso?” Then I gotta hit them with the truth. “Sorry, I’m basketball black, not baseball black.” – Orlando Baxter