Muslim blogs

Poem: Waiting for Boris

The Platform - Fri, 21/06/2019 - 09:26

after Constantine Cavafy

What are they waiting for,
the archbishops and casino owners
clutching their bags of cocaine,
the barman at Wetherspoons eyeing the clock,
and the little people who live
in Jacob Rees Mogg’s top hat
who’ve been watching things
go slowly downhill
since thirteen eighty one?

Boris is to arrive today
in a chariot driven
by a man with syphilis.

Why so few new laws
up for debate in the House?
Why do the Lords seem happy
to lie about the place waiting
for aneurysms to take them,
without even the energy
to pay their assistants
to give them one last beating
with Daddy’s bloodstained walking stick?

Because Boris arrives today
wearing an eye-patch he borrowed
from Madonna.

Why should the Honourable Member
for Cambridgeshire South bother
crying her usual tears?
Boris, when he gets here,
will have everyone except himself in tears.

Why do the Chairs of Select Committees
race up and down Whitehall
wearing only ceremonial dicky-bows
quoting passages from the Magna Carta
and the new Ann Widdecombe cookbook
into the surprised faces of tourists?

Why have the Speaker of the House
and Lord Privy Seal exhumed
from Westminster Abbey the bones
of Alfred Lord Tennyson
and dragged them to a cheap hotel near Waterloo
to engage in a rattly threesome?

Because Boris arrives today
and approves of such things.

And why doesn’t the Office for National Statistics
give us the latest disastrous news?
Because Boris arrives today
and is bored by people who can add and subtract.

What does this sudden outbreak
of accountants and High Court Judges
vomiting on each other mean?
How grey their jowls have grown.
Why have all the escalators stopped moving?
Why all the red buses crashing into the Thames?

Because the clock has rung
and Boris is not coming.
Some journalists formerly resident in Hell
but now working for the Telegraph
have been sent from the frontline to confirm
there is no Boris.
And now what will we become
without Boris?

We must urgently set about inventing
some other catastrophe
to rescue us from ourselves.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Iraqi Road to Exile: Koutaiba Al-Janabi’s 30 Years from Home

The Platform - Thu, 13/06/2019 - 18:02

“All roads take me into exile, all roads take me away from Baghdad. I am looking for the borders of countries and stories of passers through. We believed our exile would be short.” Qusas Al-Abireen

I met Koutaiba Al-Janabi on a winter evening last year in London. He told me to look out for his white hair at the train station, and indeed, his Einstein style was easy to spot from a mile away. Open and gentle, his mannerisms were pleasingly familiar, not unlike my own father or uncle, so we took our unhurried time finding the nearest open cafe (where, as expected, he refused to let me pay for our coffees), almost instinctively sharing our migrant stories as we set off.

What initially drew me to his work was a glaring absence of official records, archives and films that tell the story of what happened to the millions of Iraqis who were displaced under Saddam Hussein’s ruthless dictatorship. As if struggling to keep up with its wars, Iraq has fallen victim to the loss of its own memory, each wave of conflict veiling the last, each tale buried namelessly in a mass grave. Many people saw their family members executed in the 1980s after being targeted as dissidents under the Ba’ath Party regime, while state paranoia was intensifying during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), so they were left with little choice but to escape the country.

It was not unusual for me to sit with an Iraqi of my parents’ generation. Countless times I’d listened to our family friends over a cup of tea as they recounted episodes of interrogation at university or in prison, ensuring to make special mention of the regime’s comical incompetence, their language etched with fresh curses and metaphors coined during the Saddami era. As we sat with a generous amount of snacks between us, Koutaiba and I discussed the experience of living in the diaspora, and found ourselves sharing family stories of kidnappings, separation and exile.

In his film, Qusas Al-Abireen (or ‘Stories of Passers Through’), director Koutaiba Al-Janabi weaves a personal account that will be familiar to almost every first generation Iraqi living outside of their homeland – that of a reluctant, forced removal from a place they have loved. It is the story of a people not characteristically known to be travellers, now to become wanderers against their will.

Qusas Al-Abireen is semi-autobiographical, what Koutaiba calls a “visual diary” of his exile, taking us through both real footage and acted scenes over a period of 30 years. It is a fairly linear journey from Iraq to Budapest, but patched together like a disjointed tapestry of migration – sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes hard to decipher. Our key character trudges between anxiety and isolation, navigating dark rooms with ageing window frames, or basements with concrete floors, more than once appearing to be walking aimlessly through the dark. This exiled protagonist is played by different actors: the camera looking into a chaotic call centre where he is desperately trying to call home, or briefly lingering on a rejection letter from the Home Office.

Edited in a style akin to a horror or film noir (or perhaps a bad imitation), this film certainly doesn’t give us a sense of the migrant dream. Koutaiba acts as the film’s narrator using his own melancholic, measured, warm Iraqi Arabic for the voiceover to express a continuous longing that has surrendered to grief. It’s impossible to capture the emotion that comes with decades of exodus, so what he delivers is merely this one sentiment that has characterised his lifetime, between never-ending scenes of roads and train tracks.

In Qusas Al-Abireen, Koutaiba narrates that he bid farewell to Baghdad at the age of seventeen. He recalls how he tried to make eye contact with his countrymen as he left, but found them as expressionless as statues. “There was real fear,” he says. “When I left, very few people knew apart from my mother. When Saddam first came to power he said he would create secret police in the brain of every Iraqi and this is exactly what he did.” Koutaiba, here, refers to the Orwellian and notorious intelligence network skilfully set up by the Ba’ath Party. There was at least one spy for every household, clinic and classroom; telephones were bugged and monitored, so people could not speak freely or contact exiled family members abroad; house raids could happen at any point with penalties for those who did not have a photo of Saddam up on their living room wall.

Despite memories of dictatorship, Koutaiba unravels his nostalgia for the Baghdad he left behind in the opening sequence, with iconic palms, photos of cinemas – Sindabad, The White Cinema, Cinema Al-Nujoom – men in black dishdashas, and women in Iraqi abayas hurrying their kids along.

I ask Koutaiba about the following radio broadcast issued by the Iraqi military, its haunting crackles overshadowing the nostalgic elements of the film:

This is the day we’ve been waiting for. To prove to our country, our families and our nation, that the milk we drank from our mothers was pure.

Defending our great Iraq, our glorious Arab nation. Today is our day, our battle and our war, our tradition. Arise brothers… We have to prove that we are the sons of freedom and pureness. And they are the sons of adultery and sin.

The broadcast reverberates over unsettling music and pouring thunderstorms that occur frequently throughout the film. We see this radio, or propaganda machine, on its own elevated table – despised yet respected – next to an abandoned bookcase, an unanswered telephone and a close-up of house keys, as if the toxic words have made every member of the household disappear.

“This was the speech that announced the Iran-Iraq war,” Koutaiba explains. “It was the dirtiest war in years – the war that destroyed Iraq. Nearly one million people dead. They played this speech on and on and on, and used the radio against us.”

As I’m discussing this announcement with Koutaiba, we note that the language used by the Ba’ath Party, ‘idribuhum fauq al-a‘naaq’ (translated as both ‘hit them over their heads’ or ‘cut their throats’), is not dissimilar to the language we have seen used by Daesh in recent years.

If the words were not bad enough, the radio plays a heavier, more sinister role in Koutaiba’s life. His father had been in the Iraqi army and was executed in 1963 when Koutaiba was just a child, during the first wave of executions conducted by the Ba’ath Party as they sought quickly to consolidate their control. It was only when they switched on the radio that his mother and six siblings were faced with the shocking news.

In one extended scene, Koutaiba’s family photos appear to be strewn across the floor, what he describes as “part of his conscience”, although in reality there were very few original photos left of his family. The lack of evidence of a life before exile had always troubled my conscience too, with just a handful of polaroids surviving to tell my family history. In this harsh social and political climate, photos were often burned by the families who stayed behind, ensuring there was no trace of those who’d left in order to protect them as much as possible.

Throughout our conversation, Koutaiba compares Iraq under Saddam to Chile under Pinochet, regimes mirroring each other in their crackdowns on dissidents, disappearances and secret mass graves. “They didn’t give us my father’s body. We don’t know what happened. In these mass graves, people become just a number. I think every Iraqi family has lost somebody, whatever the reason.”

The trauma of loss and lack of closure certainly inform Koutaiba’s preferred genres. His latest fantasy / horror, filmed at the Serbian-Hungarian border, The Wooden Man, is currently in post-production and explores themes of escape and refuge. He tells me that he never imagined the growing refugee crisis would reach the point it has.

It strikes me that Koutaiba, whose name comes from the Arabic root ka-ta-ba, meaning ‘to write’ or ‘to record’, has embodied his name well. “Film is one method to reflect how we feel,” he says. “We [Iraqis] don’t appreciate our archives, we destroyed them, Saddam’s photos, everything. We have to keep them. The country needs to build a huge memorial for that period. If you don’t fix the past, you can’t build the future.”

Qusas Al-Abireen is a rare insight into the impact of exile on the Iraqi diaspora who left under Saddam’s Ba’ath government (1968-2003). Although Koutaiba never appears in front of the camera in his own deeply personal story, he leaves the door wide open for Iraqis to find themselves in the details.

Koutaiba Al-Janabi will be running a workshop titled ‘The Art of Exile: A Filmmaking Masterclass’ at the BFI Studio on Saturday 15 June, 1 to 5pm.

Stories of Passers Through will be screened as part of the session. Book through the BFI website here:

The film was also screened at the SAFAR Film Festival last year.

Photo Credits : Koutaiba Al-Janabi 

Categories: Muslim blogs

Poem: Prologue

The Platform - Fri, 07/06/2019 - 01:30

Back when there were still income tax and traffic lights.
When people still put things in microwave ovens
and ate them afterwards sat on what they used to call
sofas, while watching outtakes from The Apprentice
on that other, second-most-important
mid-twentieth century invention.

Back when there was still an internet
and people could access electricity
by just plugging in the kettle,
didn’t have to stand under a rare tree
in all-too-frequent storm and hope for the worst.

Back when two small people spent
what would be their final years in a gorgeous
pre-World War Three house,
built on land that’s now far beneath
an ocean there’s no one around to name,

in which the bacteria and an occasional
three eyed fish nightly celebrate their victory.

This poem is from new book Sex and Death at Merlin Park Hospital published by Salmon, which will be launched at The House Hotel, Galway, on 14th June 2019.

Image from here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Platform Preview to the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival, 2019

The Platform - Sun, 02/06/2019 - 21:05

Our editorial team takes a look at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, ‘Ways of Seeing’, with a review of six festival picks – from new explorations of the refugee crisis to intimate views of rural communities. The festival takes place 6 to 11 June.

Dir. Victoria Solano
(Colombia, UK)

Review by Sharaiz Chaudhry

“My homeland is not for sale!” These words by César Pachón, a community organiser in rural Colombia and an aspiring politician, summarise the David vs Goliath battle at the centre of Sumercé.

The film follows protagonists Pachón, Eduardo Moreno and Rosa Rodriguez in their travels around the páramos of Colombia, as they talk to campesinos, or farmers, and try to organise their resistance to the distant (both physically and figuratively) government in Bogotá and the big corporations that back them. False government promises, electoral corruption, authoritarian landowners, big business interests, the environment and tourism are some of the key themes touched upon, which illustrates the scale of problems they face.

The film shows these people’s determination to continue their resistance and tackle these problems head on. In my favourite scene, Rodriguez sits down with her children and explains her family’s history of activism, finishing by asking: “When your mother is gone, who will lead the people’s struggle?”

Sumercé is a stark reminder that free trade policies implemented by a faceless government, which is completely out of touch with rural life, affects the livelihoods of countless individuals. It is not only a tale of resistance against predatory capitalism and government policies, but a reaffirmation that these campesinos and their livelihoods matter.

9 and 11 June

Tiny Souls
Dir. Dina Naser

Review by Tijen Horoz

Tiny Souls explores the Syrian refugee crisis through the lens of one family staying in a camp in Jordan. Although the personal stories delivered from these white tent cities are nothing new, the way director Dina Naser becomes part of the family – sharing in their joy and pain over a period of four years – creates an intimacy between subject and viewer that feels unique.

Naser is welcomed into the most private spaces of their makeshift home, becoming particularly close with sisters, Marwa and Ayah. As their story unfolds, even the most mundane aspects of family life become compelling against the backdrop of conflict and exile and delivered from the pair’s warm, bubbly and often hilarious perspectives.

Recalling a conversation with her own father, a Palestinian child refugee in 1948, Naser says: “I asked my father once, ‘Is there war in a camp?’ He said, ‘there’s no war…no peace either. Every day there is anticipation and fear.’” War and displacement weigh heavily on the girls, who memorise every minute detail of the conflict, yet anticipate their return to Syria with excitement.

By following their routines and adventures, the viewer may be lulled into a false sense of security, but when the family’s deepest fears are realised, we are reminded just how fragile and unpredictable the life of a refugee is.

8 and 9 June

Hi, AI
Dir. Isa Willinger

Review by Umar Ali

Hi, AI explores the rise of artificial intelligence and robotics, examining how this exciting new technology could be integrated into society and what these developments could mean for humanity.

While the robots are the obvious stars of the show, ranging from simple household helpers to horrifying rubbery ghouls, what really makes them stand out isn’t what they say or do, but how humans react to them.

Humanity has created a life of sorts in its own image, and the interactions with artificial intelligence throughout the documentary reveal as much about the human condition as it does about the non-human. It’s difficult not to form an attachment to the robots, even as they rattle off facts from Wikipedia.

Hi, AI is under no illusions about the nature of robots, sending its audience careening into the uncanny valley from the first shot, but these efforts at transparency, stressing that robots are not truly alive, don’t detract from the emotional core of the piece. In fact, the documentary’s deconstruction of itself ends up enhancing its narrative, proving its points by tearing them down.

10 and 11 June

Being White
Dir: Albany Video

Review by Shireen Hilmi

An eye-opening yet sadly unsurprising delve into race, Being White explores what whiteness meant to Brits in 1980s London. When asked what being white meant, the response that it felt “normal” is telling, that lack of a need to define an identity, where any other identity is “not normal”. An attitude that, even today, is not uncommon.

The views of non-English white communities still told of discrimination that is reminiscent of the treatment of Eastern European immigrants today, that pure Englishness is superior to everything, except the white, middle class status quo. Most striking, however, is the lack of progression that the English psyche has made since these dark, Thatcherite times. Rhetoric still defined by the front pages of The Sun, generalising comments based on the actions of ethnic individuals, bananas and monkey chants being thrown at Premier League football players are all still happening today, only now they mostly take the form of comments sections online.

Being White is a haunting reminder that 2019 hasn’t seen the evolution of a more civilised society where equality reigns true, it’s merely the same society, simply with new tools, such as wifi and smart phones.

10 June

Kate Nash: Underestimate the Girl
Dir. Amy Goldstein

Review by Louis Bayman

This documentary follows Harrow-born singer-songwriter Kate Nash in a reflective mood as she recounts her journey from a Nando’s employee who took up the electric guitar when signed off work with a broken foot, to the runaway success of her 2007 single ‘Foundations’ and the subsequent tribulations of the limelight.

The title, ‘Underestimate the Girl’, is in tune with her story of a success not quite against the odds, but certainly against the occasional meanness of the press and the industry, and especially her ex-manager who she is now taking to court. This theme is in keeping with her persona as a vocalist, which combines a certain fragility with an emotional openness that suggests resilience.

The documentary is made up almost entirely of interviews with Nash as well as of her friends and family, so one shouldn’t expect any sense of exposé nor indeed any criticism at all. It is very much her own official story, and would be a bit boring for anyone not already committed to Nash’s personality or to her music.

10 and 11 June

La Vida En Común
Dir. Ezequiel Yanco
(Argentina, France)

Review by Zainab Rahim

Spanning a landscape of desolate fields, lakes and sandy grounds, this documentary is a gentle view into the lives on an indigenous community in the north of Argentina. It’s carried along by the mellow but endearing voiceover of the young unnamed protagonist. He imagines the movements and ruthless nature of a puma, while building up an urgency to hunt the beast with his friends.

La Vida En Común focuses on these young adolescents, their facial expressions often appearing more mature than their age. Whether taking their dogs on a hunting trip, recounting a story of a parental break-up, or helping each other shave, there is a sustained thread of quiet innocence in their interactions.

The film doesn’t try to exoticise the indigenous experience, nor does it seek to separate it from the modern world; rather, it offers a glimpse into how a rural lifestyle can be integrated with a national school system and new social trends. We do see, however, what seems to be a twinge of sadness as the kids watch videos of their history and heritage. The film eventually reaches its crux by magnifying our connection to the natural elements.

If you like slow-paced documentaries, you’ll enjoy this pensive but strangely calming film.

7 and 10 June

Louis Bayman is film editor at The Platform and an academic based at the University of Southampton.

Tijen Horoz is World editor at The Platform. She completed a BA in English at KCL University, followed by an MA in Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS University.

Sharaiz Chaudhry is spirituality editor at The Platform who studied Middle East Politics at university before pursuing traditional Islamic studies.

Shireen Hilmi is the Health Editor at The Platform. She is currently working as a doctor in London.

Umar Ali is an editorial assistant on The Platform who studied Comparative Literature before pursuing a masters in newspaper journalism.

Zainab Rahim is the joint editor-in-chief of The Platform.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Flowers of Spring

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Wed, 01/05/2019 - 17:12

Like as the glistening snowflakes adorn the wintery expanses of fields, trees, and rolling hills in a soft blanket of downy frost, so do the flowers of Spring embellish our lives. Their colors charm us, their fragrances permeate into the depths of our souls and their voices join in serenading harmony the birds magically appearing after an absence that can seem, at times, to rival eternity. Yet their enchanting presence is fleeting for they inevitably wither and fade taking with them the glorious canvas they had painted in our gardens, parks and hillsides. Yet go they must for they are but an ephemeral reminder of the incomparable beauty to be found in that boundless realm wherein exist wonders no eye has beheld, no ear has captured and no imagination has fancied. Were the flowers of Spring to linger, perhaps we would never learn to yearn for the magnificent garden to be found beyond this world. And so we enjoy the beauty the flowers offer us and welcome their departure as the beginning of our arrival.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Their Religion is Hate

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 23/04/2019 - 06:57

We awakened yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, to the news of the horrific slaughter in Sri Lanka. Sensationalizing news organizations rushed to identify the religion of the perpetrators of such a nefarious act. Were they members of the Buddhist majority, the Hindu Tamil Tigers, or were they wretched Muslims who had been seduced into the murderous embrace of ISIS, Alqaeda or some other pseudo-Islamic organization? Such a search is meaningless and simple.

It is meaningless because no matter what religion the murderers claim, that religion rejects them. If the criminals turn out to identify themselves as Muslims, they should know that Islam does not accept them. Our Prophet (peace and blessings of God upon him) made that clear when he stated, “The murderer does not remain a believer at the time that he kills.” In other words, when he engages in such a grave violation of the sanctity of life, a sanctity affirmed by Islamic teachings, faith is stripped away from him and he is left staring into the abyss of his savage, uncivilized, beastly nature.

It is simple because there is a readily identifiable religion to which the misguided savages undertaking such acts belong. They belong to the Religion of Hate. They have coreligionists who have engaged in similar acts in villages in Myanmar; mosques in New Zealand; a retreat in Norway; a theatre in Paris; hotels in Mumbai; a synagogue in Pittsburgh; a Sikh temple outside of Milwaukee; a church in Charleston, SC; marketplaces and bus stations in Abuja, Nigeria, and, sadly, in far too many other locales. While the victims in all of these attacks had many different religious identities, the perpetrators had only one: they had all been converted to the Religion of Hate.

The Religion of Hate will not be conquered by “crusades” or “jihads,” nor by bombs and bullets. It will not be eradicated as many atheists believe by the effacement of religion itself. The elimination of religion in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Pol Pot’s Cambodia only increased the ghastly slaughter of innocent human beings, for the Religion of Hate does not need a theology to thrive. It thrives on ignorance, blind vengeance, a lust for power, the pursuit of a lost paradise which never existed, and empty, love-starved hearts that are all too easily filled with hatred and a callous discard for the rights and lives of manufactured, anonymous “others.” These are the dark temples of the Religion of Hate.

Hence, that religion will only be conquered when enough of us conquer the places within ourselves that nurture it. To do that we will need to revive and spread the moral, ethical and spiritual teachings of true religion. Those are teachings that cleanse our hearts of darkness and fill them with a love of God, the light of true faith and a respect for the God-given sanctity of human life. That conquest will only ensue when we put the world in its proper place. It is not the rarest of treasures to be fought over or to kill for, and when misunderstood and misused it can be cursed.

The world can also be rendered beautiful and a source of great benefit, but only when we see it is as an abode of trials and tribulations where we are tested to see which of us are best in our moral fiber, ethical commitments and true God-consciousness. The adherents of the Religion of Hate have failed that test. If we allow them to turn us away from God, to turn us against each other, and to lead us into an ever deepening downward spiral of bloody contestation over the world, then we too will fail.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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