Muslim blogs

Poem: Irish Government Minister Unveils Monument to Victims of Pro-Life Amendment

The Platform - Sun, 16/07/2017 - 17:43

Awaiting the unveiling of a monument for the victims of the 8th Amendment

 

Introduction

A ban on abortion was added to the Irish constitution in September 1983 which extended the existing ban to mean that the Irish Parliament (Dáil) could not legislate for abortion, even if it wished to.

In 1992 the Attorney General got a High Court injunction against a 14-year-old rape victim who had been taken to England for an abortion by her parents seeking to prevent the abortion being carried out. The Supreme Court then ruled that a woman does have the right to an abortion if she can prove that she is suicidal, but this was not legislated until 2013.

In 2012 an Indian born resident of Galway City, Savita Salappanavar, died of septicemia at University Hospital Galway having been refused an abortion, despite having requested one several times when complications developed during her pregnancy. This led to the Protection of Life During Pregnancy (2013) which allowed abortion in extremely limited circumstances. However, the Act also introduced a new penalty – a prison sentence of up to 14 years – for anyone who has, or assists in, an unlawful abortion.

The Irish government will soon decide whether or not to hold a referendum to delete the anti-abortion clause (the 8th amendment) from the constitution.

There are many recently unveiled monuments around Ireland to the victims of other past abuses, such as the women detained in the Magdalene Laundries. My poem looks forward to the day when some future Irish government minister unveils a monument to the victims of the grotesque folly that has been the 8th Amendment, which by then many people will not even remember.

 

Irish Government Minister Unveils Monument
to Victims of Pro-Life Amendment

On a date to be confirmed,
when those who remember 1983
will sleep safely in their graves,
or be anxiously telling nurse
about the auld ones with crucifixes
they think are coming to get them

a girl, today
on holidays from primary school,
by then grown into
a Maggie Thatcher suit, will thank
the Chamber of Commerce
for use of their microphone
as a pulled chord unwraps a figure
chipped from stone

in memory
of those forced
to change trains at Crewe clutching
solitary suitcases that screamed
one night only,

those that bled out in the backs
of London taxis after journeys
made possible by post office accounts
and extra hours at the newsagent’s;

all because of a stick
which, for them, turned
the wrong colour
the wrong year
in the wrong country.

And as the Minister continues,
across the road a little girl will grab
her mother’s arm and ask:
what’s that lady saying?

Image from here. Artists respond to ‘Repeal the Eighth’ here.

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Massacre

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Mon, 10/07/2017 - 04:03

The toll was gruesome. Over 100 people shot, 15 fatally. Bloody streets, shattered bones, severed limbs, ruined lives and devaststed families. Baghdad? No. Kabul? No. Mogadishu? No. Paris? No. Al Qaida? No. ISIS? No. Al Shabab? No. Boko Haram? No.

This was the July 4th weekend toll of shootings in Chicago, Illinois. Half of these shooting occurred during the last 12 hours of the weekend, almost fittingly on the Fourth of July. Fittingly, because as H. Rap Brown (now known as Imam Jamil el-Amin) once said, “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” We are a nation conceived in violence, yet many of us refuse to recognize it, especially those who benefit the most from it.

We were conceived in the genocidal violence unleashed against the native people of this land and when the remnants of the 500 vanished tribes try to hold on the dwindling slivers of their land, air or water we mock them with macabre cynicism as we send in the bulldozers and excavators.

We were nurtured on the dehumanizing violence of slavery and its bastard child, Jim Crow, and then wonder why those who have been epigenetically scarred by the trauma of auctioned fathers, raped mothers, lynched uncles and broken families cannot totally escape the quicksand of police dragnets, redlined and then gentrified neighborhoods, systematically underfunded schools, and looted public treasuries.

We perpetuate our economy, in part, on 100 billion dollar weapon sales and Satanic alliances, not caring the least about the hapless Muslim civilians, the overwhelming majority of those who are on the receiving end of the cruise missiles, smart and dumb bombs, bunker busters, cluster bomblets or the other instruments of death, which we peddle with the wanton impunity we peddle guns to alienated youth in our inner cities or the zombied killers who visit our college campuses or suburban schools far too often than we would care to admit.

We justify much of the violence in the name of security. Surely, security will be invoked when the politicians discuss deploying the National Guard or military reservists to Chiraq, the street name for Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods. However, just as an armed response has done little to mitigate the rise of terrorist groups overseas, the Army responding to the violence plaguing many of our urban communities will be of little lasting effect.

We will only begin to escape these escalating cycles of violence, domestic and foreign, when we acknowledge that no child, regardless the circumstances of his birth, comes into the world with a gun in his hand hellbent on taking the life of his fellow humans. It is only when we place as much emphasis on ensuring that we are a nurturing society that equally values the lives of all of its members that we will be able to begin to move beyond the kind of violence so painfully on display in Chicago this last week.

Categories: Muslim blogs

“Big Society” and the Psychology of Selfishness

The Platform - Fri, 07/07/2017 - 02:59

Nothing is certain, but taxes and prejudice

“I think we’ve been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it’s the government’s job to cope with it. ‘I have a problem, I’ll get a grant.’ ‘I’m homeless, the government must house me.’ They’re casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations. There’s no such thing as entitlement, unless someone has first met an obligation.”  Margaret Thatcher

It could be said that this pronouncement, made on the 31st of October 1987, encapsulated the attitude of an era. In fact, this is undeniable; the twin ballasts of Reagan and Thatcher had stretched a globalist canopy across the Atlantic and beyond, ushering in the arrival of the “individual” enjoying the commanding views of Wall Street or London, over the languishing communities around a Yorkshire mining pit or factory forecourt. The radical notions hidden in these words were downplayed through an appeal to certain “obligations” being fulfilled before “entitlements” could be expected.

Economic textbooks began to frame their theories around the “rational actor”; an isolated individual who seeks purely to maximise their own benefits in interactions with other individuals. A notable work promoted by Thatcher herself was Friedrich Hayek’s foreboding post-war anti-socialist screed The Road to Serfdom, which attacked traditional ideas of community and welfare as financially irresponsible and conformist, and served as the basis for the prime minister’s remarks.

But did this era ever really end? The arrival of New Labour in 1997 saw their own iconic leader Tony Blair state that it “was [his] job to build on some Thatcher policies”, including the further deregulation of the finance industry that contributed to the housing bubble and crash of 2008.

Any hopes that the rich would pick up their share of this burden were dashed with the arrival of Cameron’s coalition government in 2010 that, instead of denying the concept of society, inverted the wordplay with the introduction of the “Big Society”; a trojan horse of self-reliance that beckoned waves of brutal austerity attacks. These eroded essential services increased rates of child poverty and taxed the less well-off. “This is not an easy life any more, chum. I think you’re a slacker,” said Secretary for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith as he forced the unfit into work, creating the mantra the new society would be based upon.

So it would seem that the notion of society has also been distorted in the minds of the public. A 2015 British Social Attitudes survey showed that 45% of the British public supported less government spending on the unemployed, while 61% thought working-age couples without children who are struggling should find ways to look after themselves, rather than looking to the government for assistance with wages. On the other hand, only 7% supported less government spending on retired people, and 31% disagreed that “the government should spend more money on welfare benefits for the poor”.

What these results show is that this generalised idea of “fulfilled obligations” before “entitlements” may represent a kind of ideological scaffold, upon which members of our non/big society temper their own charity according to the presumed circumstances of others. The results show that the British public might weigh their judgement according to who deserves their sympathy, rather than empathy.

These views are reinforced deep within our psychology, through various biases that seek to protect the individual against exploitation. Whether these unconscious trends in our thinking accurately serve reasonable attitudes towards modern welfare in a capitalist system, however, is another matter. Studies have shown that these biases play an active role in our attitudes towards paying taxes and social spending in general. Hyperbolic discounting, for example, relates to a tendency for the mind to prefer a smaller reward sooner than a larger reward later. It has been shown that people would prefer $50 immediately, rather than $100 in six months, but would not prefer $50 in three months rather than $100 in nine months.

Another overwhelming tendency is risk aversion, the preference for a sure outcome over a gamble with an equal or higher expected value. Risk-seeking behaviour, on the other hand, becomes more attractive the further one is already in a loss. The tendency to want rewards now and avoid risks even for the potential of greater profit is likely to influence how we think about society.

If we relate all of this back to ideas around the “fulfilment of obligations before entitlements”, we can see how we could be exploited with carefully selected language to activate such biases. The fulfilment is expected before the entitlements (less presumptively known as “welfare”) are offered, and the need to provide value upfront is seen as the safe bet, whereas providing for those in need before demands have been fulfilled could be seen as a risky investment, with no guarantee of return. How do we know these people we have invested in through our taxes will actually get a job one day? How do we guarantee their contribution so we are not taken for a ride?

The answer provided in this case is to transfer the burden onto those in need; make them commit to something so that we can ensure that we (as productive, tax-paying individuals) are not being exploited or made the fool of. These latter concerns almost seem to take priority over the welfare itself.

A clear ideology around perceptions of the poor and generalisations around whether particular social groups are worth helping begins to form out of these aversions to loss and risk, and attractions to immediate gain. The problem then comes with the exploitation of these mechanisms in order to promote radical views of individualism: humans as “rational actors” who seek only to maximise their own gains, as well as attacks upon the notion of society. The “identifiable victim effect” exposes a bias in how people are willing to expend greater amounts of resources to help save the lives of identifiable victims than to save equal numbers of unidentified or statistical victims. To elaborate:

“There is a distinction between an individual life and a statistical life. Let a 6-year-old girl with brown hair need thousands of dollars for an operation that will prolong her life until Christmas, and the post office will be swamped with nickels and dimes to save her. But let it be reported that without a sales tax the hospital facilities of Massachusetts will deteriorate and cause a barely perceptible increase in preventable deaths — not many will drop a tear or reach for their checkbooks.” (Schelling, 1968)

It should not be difficult to figure out which side of the fence victims of broken or undermined welfare systems are sitting on. To those in more fortunate positions, these victims are abstractions, numbers, and financial liabilities with little guarantee of tangible return in the long term and no return in the short term. Should we be surprised that tabloids like The Sun can arouse more passion and indignation with their morbid stories of abused children, than the silent victims of the sick declared fit for work or those stripped of their benefits? What about the children of those parents?

The presumption inherent in Margaret Thatcher’s assertions is that the near destitute could possibly give anything of worth before vital aid and assistance might reach them. In denying the concept of a society, she not only encouraged the most selfish aspects of our psychology to manifest and solidify, but actively closed the door on those abstractions and statistics of human beings, who are an unappealing burden to the privileged mind anyway.

The conditions around what constitutes a satisfactory “obligation” in her speech are as vague as the notions of Cameron’s attempted resurrection of the Big Society, and as vacuous as May’s proclamations of a “red, white and blue Brexit”. This language of coded platitudes betrays both a contempt for regular voters and the denial of a duty of care to those in poverty.

Last month, the nation had to witness the destructive realities of that neglect, as all the cuts to local councils, ignorance towards EU regulations, and complete disregard for the concerns of ordinary people were expressed in the smouldering husk of Grenfell Tower. For all the aforementioned presumptions, proclamations and damnations made upon such people by her predecessors, Theresa May could not even bring herself to face them in their unresolvable loss and desperation. A deceived, insulted and cheated society now drifts among the ashes, looking for its casualties.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Lessons James Baldwin Taught Me

The Platform - Sun, 25/06/2017 - 19:40

James Baldwin’s moving final words featured in I Am Not your Negro serve as an immortal message of political maturity to the activists of today

James Baldwin stated that the story of the Negro in America is the story of America itself, and it is that story Raoul Peck beautifully captures in his film, I Am Not Your Negro. The film is based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript on the lives of his three friends: Medgar Evans, Malcolm X and Dr Martin Luther King Junior.

Samuel L. Jackson narrates Baldwin’s voice. Even through his smooth and silky tone, Baldwin’s words still manage to stand out. They penetrate through the mind and lodge themselves uncomfortably within, until you are forced to face reality and really weigh the strength of his words.

In a letter written to his literary agent, Baldwin describes his book proposal as a journey, “because you cannot know what you will discover on the journey, what you will do with what you find, or what you will find will do to you.” And it is precisely that – a journey of beautifully shot scenes through American streets, juxtaposed with archive film and interview footage. It is not just a visual journey, but one that, through Baldwin’s words, the audience must make in their mind. Supported by his eloquence in capturing a complex state of affairs, he offers a scaffold to the curious listener to venture on the journey for themselves. It is these personal reflections on the lessons learnt that I share below:

1. Chapter: PAYING MY DUES
I Am Because We Are

Baldwin begins by discussing the historic case commonly known as ‘Brown vs the Board of Education’, and the struggle black people faced in America to fight for the end of segregated schooling. He focuses on the story of Dorothy Counts, and the film displays archive footage of her “unutterable pride, tension and anguish as she approached the halls of learning, with history jeering at her back”, quite literally, as innumerable white faces goaded and taunted her.

Baldwin talks of his shame, saying, “some one of us should have been there with her!” At this point in time, Baldwin had been living in France and had grown weary of waxing lyrical of the Algerian problem and the black problem in America. One can discover from this that, although interlocution has its place and use, it is rendered entirely meaningless unless it is action-guided and solution-focused.

Dues must be paid is the message I garnered from this. Throughout our histories, our peoples have passed the baton, struggled and sacrificed so we could be here. And the baton must not just be passed on, but it must be carried – and though it may be heavy, we must bear it with strength and compassion.

2. Chapter: HEROES & WITNESSES

 One of Baldwin’s intentions in writing a book about his three friends was for their “lives to bang against each other, as a means of instructing the people.” It made me reflect, just as he did, on the people who influenced him, and how very strongly our experiences shape our perspective.

He talks of the old western ‘Cowboys vs. Indians’ movies and the point in which you realise that the “Indian is you!” This genre serves to comfort the white world, that they indeed are heroes and forever on the right side of history. As you grow up, you dishearteningly realise that, in fact, all your favourite superheroes were slyly misogynistic patriots, pregnant with imperial ambition. But then, at some point during this long drawn out epiphany, you receive “instruction”. You read, hear, meet or connect with someone who really and truly “corroborates your reality”, as Malcolm X did for the vast majority of black people in America.

One further wonders, “what is your role in this country and what is your future in it?” Since we live at a time of globalisation, these questions invite others such as, “what is my role on earth? What am I meant to do? As a theist, what does God expect of me?” Baldwin describes himself as a witness, taking it upon himself to “write the story and get out”. Thus, we must also seek to ascertain what role we should play in society: hero, witness, leader, follower… the list goes on. How best can we utilise our unique skill sets to serve our communities? Answering this question, however, is no easy feat and may even take a lifetime to figure out, but nevertheless, it is a conversation one must continue to have.

Later Baldwin discusses how two of the heroes of his journey were often pitted against each other: Martin and Malcolm. But from his unique vantage point, he reflects on how their respective positions shifted towards each other: “…two men coming from unimaginably different backgrounds, whose positions, originally, were poles apart, driven closer and closer together. By the time each died, their positions had become virtually the same position.” The quote is too beautiful not to include in full. “It can be said, indeed, that Martin had picked up Malcolm’s burden, articulated the vision which Malcolm had begun to see, and for which he paid with his life. And that Malcolm was one of the people Martin saw on the mountaintop.” These few lines are among my favourite of the whole film and book as their main lesson is that of political maturity.

You can never chastise someone who is fighting the same battle as you, but perhaps chooses to use a different weapon. Having a wide range of defences can, in fact, be to your ultimate advantage as Martin Luther King saw later in his life. It is the men’s maturity, open-mindedness, and sheer unadulterated sincerity in their willingness to publicly admit their wrongs, that we need to learn to take instruction from. As Malcolm X stated, “I have always been a man who tries to face facts, and to accept the reality of life. As new experiences and new knowledge unfolds, I have always kept an open mind, which is necessary to the flexibility that must go hand-in-hand with every form of intelligent search of truth.” As a mentor I know recently pontificated, changing an opinion comes from a position of increased knowledge and it is knowledge we should seek, above all, to form our actions.

3. Chapter: I AM NOT A NEGRO

In the same speech from which the title of the film, I Am Not Your Negro, is taken, Baldwin doesn’t just negate what he is not, but rather affirms what he is – “I’m not a nigger, I am a man.” Although the negation is important (as it is always of use to dispel that which is not true), I strongly believe it is the affirmation that should be stated loud and clear. Exemplify who you are so strongly, that no one can ever say otherwise. Embody who you are and your principles so loudly, that no one can speak over them.

With thanks to Penguin Random House for sending me this book. You can get a copy of I Am Not Your Negro through their website.

 

Featured image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

Grenfell – One Week On

The Platform - Thu, 22/06/2017 - 19:27

As a community mourns Grenfell Tower has become a monument to deep inequality and the possibility for a community awakening

I spent my childhood playing football under Grenfell Tower. Kensington Leisure Centre had astroturf extending under the block and Westway Sports Centre only had concrete pitches at the time. I grew up in the block between the two sports centres, as part of the burgeoning Latimer Road community, a multicultural hub housing the poorest of society in one of London’s wealthiest boroughs. As an inferno gripped Grenfell in the early hours last Wednesday, the days that followed brought me back to my youth for the first time in years, on the streets and in the community centres, in the videos and anger that have surfaced.

The facts around Grenfell have been incredibly patchy. The contrast between eyewitness accounts and media reporting continue to muddy the waters. Amid the conflicting messages, several communities have launched their own social media appeals for help, as centres were inundated with donations within hours. It was a beautiful show of community spirit, but as a coordinated disaster response it was chaotic. And yet as the donations piled in, the victims didn’t. Three days on the ground at Westway Sports Centre saw perhaps a dozen victims – 400 beds were prepared and yet there was a hollow emptiness to the converted tennis courts. Official efforts were erratic: police prioritised securing access to the area, ambulances raced about without staff and the council seemed to be absent. Volunteers took on the burden of coordination, but this was not enough. In Emily Maitlis’ interview with Prime Minister Theresa May, she rightly retorted that in all other such significant matters, the army would have been brought in. Where were they? Where was anyone? And throughout, Grenfell burnt for 36 hours. Questions have yet to be answered and a creeping death toll does nothing to explain the hundreds not yet accounted for. Over all four hospitals, less than 50 casualties were admitted, many of whom were children. Where, ask the people, is everyone else?

The reaction has been one of anger which has led to the mobilisation of an entire community. Prominent artists who also grew up in this area have come out and spoken, among them Akala and Karim Dennis, more commonly known as Lowkey. I spoke to Karim regarding his thoughts. “Frustration is massive,” he told me. “People are not being provided with answers and this is leading to expressions of rage that may seem random to others. But people feel betrayed in many ways.” He referred to the illegal cladding, the councillor’s dual role as a property developer, and fears that this disastrous incident is to be instrumentalised by the council for further social cleansing. “This will lead to people in other blocks being told, ‘you don’t want this to happen, let us knock down your building,’ then they will be moved out of this community maybe forever.” He spoke also of the media furore, referring to the way that the area has been converted into a ‘media circus’. “It’s trauma tourism… and people still haven’t been given the chance to grieve. They still don’t really understand what happened.”

Some residents say that rather than be harassed by the media they would prefer to have some clarity about the number of people who died. “I think people want the media to support them, and to go interview those who should have prevented this, like Robert Black [Chief Executive of KCTMO who own the buildings],” continued Lowkey. “To doorstep them the way they doorstep people accused by the Sun for benefit scrounging. Make their lives living hell, put them all over the front pages. They built buildings which were unsafe and people burnt to death and died because of it. That’s what people want to see – they want them to put pressure on power rather than put pressure on people in the public who are striving for the better good.”

What then of its wider implications? Grenfell Tower has become intensely symbolic as a product of austerity and the legacy of the Conservative government. But this does not fully encapsulate the importance of individual responsibilities. Focusing on general Tory policy acts to shift the blame away from the persons involved in each step. Achieving change in such a flawed system, which may produce a further four years of austerity, will rely on individuals within the party acting to halt such policies.

Yet clearly this is also a systemic issue of both Tory policy and wider neoliberal housing practice. A Panorama documentary exposed the murky backstory to a building where health and safety claims were dismissed four times and when the Tory party voted as a bloc against making such places fit for human habitation. It is outrageous that blocks in one of the wealthiest cities in the world don’t have appropriate emergency preparations. The fire has exposed a stark schism in society in which the bubble created by elitist, corporate society has burst. There is now a gulf between an establishment which values profit over human life and accumulation of capital in the short term over the interests of the people or long-term sustainability.

There will be more uprisings. Raw pain still engulfs the neighbourhood. Despite outspoken crowds chasing out Theresa May and unleashing their rage through protest, there has still been a sense of hopeless silence. “People have been traumatised in a way not many communities in London have been, and we have a long way to go yet in terms of psychological healing,” Karim told me.

And so Grenfell stands as a complex monument to social marginalisation, governmental failures and human emotion. Yes, it was an enlightening community effort, and we do not need a tragedy to be told that we are a good community and we have come together. As humans, we are vigilant of fire; if fire touches us, it burns. We are not vigilant of carbon monoxide fumes that accompany fire, a silent and prolonged killer. The underlying premises that led to Grenfell are the insidious changes to our economy and social structure, as well as the spread of toxic beliefs, which has ultimately caused the longest-term damage. So in the coming days the community spirit must be harnessed into an awakening. In years to come, the social shift we are seeing may lead to the very necessary social justice we need – and that is the only hope that stands with Grenfell one week on.

Image from here

Categories: Muslim blogs

The Importance of Being a Very Public Muslim

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Tue, 13/06/2017 - 05:28

In the climate of fear and mistrust of Muslims being carefully cultivated by some elements in this country it is extremely important to be a very public, very visible, very talkative Muslim. Some Muslims would tend to shun this advice thinking that by “laying low” and being almost invisible they can get by or pass unnoticed.

This is exactly what the anti-Muslim forces want. They want Muslims to disappear from our society and when sisters take off hijabs, brothers take off their kufis or shave their beards and everyone silences themselves they are actually advancing the program of the racists by helping to create a society “without” Muslims.

As people become accustomed to not seeing Muslims, not hearing from Muslims not sensing a Muslim presence in their lives or communities, it becomes easier for the racists to enact policies that lead to the actual eradication of Muslims. This is a lesson history has taught us concerning the ways tyrannical regimes are consolidated. Hence, be very visibly Muslim!

Some will argue that it is very dangerous to be very assertively Muslim right now and will point to the recent attack on the Muslim girl and her friend on the Portland MAX. That incident supports rather than argues against the point I am making. To clarify, because one of the girls was identifiably Muslim, there was a massive public rallying to defend her right to be herself, a valued member of her community. If Muslims “disappear” what is the basis for anyone rallying on our behalf?

Challenging times are always fraught with danger, however, heroes are those who face the danger of their time and by so doing represent a challenge in their own right which others must respond to. Now is the time for heroes not cowards. Tyranny draws its life from a society of cowards and is eradicated by the courageous.

As the warning signs of tyranny begin to rear their despicable heads in our society let us starve them of air, cut off their roots. For insight into the nature of tyranny, I encourage everyone to read Timothy Snyder’s brief but very insightful book, “On Tyranny.” May these middle days of Ramadan be blessed.

Categories: Muslim blogs
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