Muslim blogs

Cities Ablaze…

Imam Zaid Shakir Blog - Fri, 22/09/2017 - 05:10

In 1970 the R&B group, The Temptations, sang about “...cities ablaze in the summertime.” The reference was to the race riots that left large swaths of cities like Los Angeles, Newark, Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and others burned to the ground. Racism, America’s seemingly incurable disease, continues to rear its vile head and we see sections of cities like Ferguson and now St. Louis ablaze as a result of the intense racial polarization tearing at the seams of our society.

In the African American community, those tensions are worsened by the scores of men, women and children shot by police with no accountability. There are those who may argue that some of those killings are the result of poor judgment, inexperience, fear or inadequate training. However, when an officer says “I’m going to kill this motherf*****...”, as happened in the Saint Louis incident triggering the current unrest, or is wearing a T-Shirt emblazoned with a confederate flag under his uniform, as was the case when Ray Tensing shot unarmed, non-menacing Sam DuBose in the head, there is no argument.

The era defining the Temptations song was itself defined, to a great extent by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was killed before he was able to fully develop the movement to bring down what he referred to as the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism. Dr. King presciently understood that most of the ills in our society are a function of those three evils.

Dr. King of course was a Christian, however, the forces he challenged are ecumenical in nature. They affect Catholics as much as they affect Protestants; they affect Muslims as much as they affect Christians. As Muslims, we must recognize that the times are calling us to be the heirs of Dr. King’s mission. It may not be today or tomorrow, but sooner or later we must respond and join forces with others who are fighting these evils. Until then, tensions will continue to rise and cities will continue to burn.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Born a Crime, Raised an Icon: Trevor Noah’s Powerful Autobiography

The Platform - Sat, 02/09/2017 - 20:39

Deftly woven and wittily presented Born A Crime is a cathartic narrative of the complexity of a fractured post-apartheid South Africa

An “autobiographical comedy” is how Trevor Noah’s memoir Born A Crime is often described. But, as everyone’s current favourite satirical funny man, Noah does here too what he does best. Drollery as a façade for dark witticisms. A laugh-out-loud hardcover made up of pages laced with a grim life story not really meant to be taken lightly.

The title is literal in every sense of the phrase: Noah was born to a Swiss father and a Xhosa mother in an apartheid-governed South Africa when such “alliances” were punishable by law. As a result, Noah would be officiated as “coloured”. The proverbial stamp would haunt him as “the anomaly wherever we lived” he writes. “In Hillbrow, we lived in a white area, and nobody looked like me. In Soweto, we lived in a black area, and nobody looked like me. Eden Park was a coloured area, everyone looked like me, but we couldn’t have been more different.”

As a result, Noah learned to be a “chameleon”, over the years building up fluency in English, Afrikaans, and four other native tongues. He would perceptively observe: “Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says, ‘we’re the same.’ A language barrier says, ‘we’re different.’ The architects of apartheid knew this.”

Noah was only nine years old when Mandela was freed, and he recollects matter-of-factly how before then, “I could only see my father where apartheid allowed,” which was mostly indoors and not out in public. One would then expect a less bleaker account of a ‘liberated’ South Africa, but Noah offers us both; his own astute interpretations of memories from a police-state childhood, along with observations of post-apartheid repercussions of the war Africa “waged with its own self”.

“The difference between British racism and Afrikaner racism was that at least the British gave the natives something to aspire to,” he says in the book. “If they learned to speak correct English and dress in proper clothes, if they could Anglicise and civilise themselves, one day they might be welcome in society. The Afrikaners never gave us that option. British racism said ‘If the monkey can walk like a man and talk like a man, then perhaps he is a man.’ Afrikaner racism said, ‘Why give a book to a monkey?’”

There are most certainly hilarious accounts of his childhood (and young adulthood) shenanigans included – you can almost picture Noah having an entire audience at one of his stand-up shows in fits. But woven in between the comedy are personal insights into years of self-fostered intuitiveness that almost pale in comparison to the snippets of perception we see on The Daily Show.

“The thing Africans don’t have that Jewish people do have is documentation,” he reflects in one of the longer passages. “The Nazis took meticulous records, took pictures, made films. Holocaust victims count because Hitler counted them. Six million people killed. We can all look at that number and be rightly horrified. But when you read through the atrocities against Africans, there are no numbers, only guesses. It’s harder to be horrified by a guess.”

Many who rushed for the shelves as soon as Born A Crime was released late last year most likely anticipated a slapstick narrative. What they didn’t expect as they closed the other end of the hard cover was to be wondering how a social pariah, an ex-“hustler” and a witness (and recipient) to an abusive stepfather, could possibly get even near the standing he has today.

The answer, however, is in the dedication and final lines of this journal. “For bringing me into this world and making me the man I am today, I owe the greatest debt, a debt I can never repay, to my mother.” For above all, this story is a heartbreakingly heartening ode to his mother – a fiercely devout woman, a single parent stubbornly unconcerned about societal norms, a firm believer in “tough love” and a person who can even find humour in being shot in the face.

“Learn from your past and be better because of your past. But don’t cry because of your past. Life is full of pain. Let the pain sharpen you, but don’t hold on to it. Don’t be bitter.” And as the reader moves along this album of words, he/she comes to realise that for all the acerbity Noah carries about South Africa and its governance, his retrospection with regards to his personal upbringing are unresentful – they are the bobs from the bits that he recollects fondly and comically.

In every tribute he makes to his mother, one can even come to the conclusion that this book is autographed for all women, really. The strength in us that is wasted on just carrying pickets, and not, well, doing. The God-given grit we innately possess that has us smiling and marching on in the face of disappointment after disappointment. The voices we are granted, not just for loudspeakers at marches, but to teach a generation we wholly intend to be better than ours.

Noah clearly has an incredible story to tell, and all those who have turned these leaves are glad that he did. This page-turner will have you laughing, have your heart racing, and even most unexpectedly, have you watering your eyes in acknowledgement of the love with which it has been written.

Image from TIME

Categories: Muslim blogs

Myanmar’s Enemy Within: The Illusion of Diversity and the Spread of Fear

The Platform - Wed, 23/08/2017 - 23:53

Exclusive extract from new book by Francis Wade exploring the persecution of Myanmar’s religious minorities 

Not so long ago, a visitor to an immigration office in Myanmar will have encountered a signboard on the wall, its inscription rendered in bold lettering, that warned of a particular peril facing the country: “The Earth will not swallow a race to extinction but another race will.” It had become the slogan of the Ministry of Immigration during the long years of military rule, when the country retreated inwards, walling itself off from the outside world. Like much of the rhetoric of that age, it was abrupt and deliberately stark, and the message it contained was simple: save for strong borders and the vigilant offices of the state, the country would be overrun by outsiders. In time, the national race might cease to exist.

I only learnt of the slogan some time after the signboards had begun, bit by bit, to be taken down. As the transition progressed, these remnants of military rule, though still present, appeared less frequently. Now, with hindsight, there seemed an eerie prescience to the slogan, a warning of what might, with the right forces awakened, happen when those vigilant offices came under new management and the society around them began to shift. The military may have stepped back, but the violence of 2012 and thereafter showed that the fears it encouraged did not depart with the men in green.

The junta that ruled Myanmar in various guises for nearly half a century did so with a particular vision in mind, taken from a motto used by the independence movement: “One voice, one blood, one nation.” On giant red bill- boards planted at intersections of busy roads it spoke of the “People’s Desire,” imploring loyal subjects to “Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy.” They implied that there was an undercurrent of existential anxiety running throughout the population, common to all the people. Or perhaps, where that anxiety wasn’t present, it could be cultivated. Fear has always been a powerful unifier, and if the authors of these slogans could sell the idea that a threat to the nation lurked just beyond its borders, or perhaps even within them, then the project to bring disparate peoples under one flag might bear fruit.

In the decades after the coup of 1962 that brought Ne Win to power, a narrative developed which saw the military not so much as nation builders but nation restorers. They would return Myanmar to its supposed pre-colonial glory, when a Buddhist order thrived, uncontaminated by foreign influence, and all subjects of the king enjoyed an abiding sense of national unity. It saw that past as a blueprint for the future, one that fed much of the propaganda circulated in the decades after the coup that carried an underlying warning of the dangers of cultural diversity. The billboards and signboards had a particular bluntness to them, not to be easily forgotten, but others were more lyrical. They evoked a fanciful picture of what had been, and what, with some work, could be.

“Moving about in the manner of whirlpools,” so began one passage in Minye Kaungbon, a text issued in the mid-1990s by the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the successor to Ne Win’s regime, “racial groups have assimilated to a large extent and just as one major [one] was about to emerge, Myanmar fell under imperialist rule. Some currents of water that had not yet completely assimilated with others were prevented from reaching the journey’s end and were left half way.”

The British sabotaged that project, so the story went, and drove a deep wedge between the different racial and religious groups of the country.

“They spread false tales of differences in race and in culture as if they were merely defending minority rights … Let all national groups have complete faith, trust and love among themselves. They are blood-brothers and let them be united just like water is united and indivisible.”

The quest the military embarked upon was to restore that sense of purity and homogeneity to the country. But of course it never existed. King Anawratha may have achieved a degree of unity of the valley peoples that none before him had managed, but after the fall of his dynasty, the country’s centre was embroiled in centuries of conflict between rival kingdoms, as the power of the Bamar kingdoms waxed and waned greatly.

There was, however, some truth to the accusations. Myanmar has always been a nation of innumerable porous and interchangeable identity groups, each with divergent loyalties. Yet Britain imported its obsession with racial classification, one that had been used to such deleterious effect in its colonies elsewhere in the world. Boundaries were drawn between peoples where they hadn’t previously existed, and over time, the human landscape in Myanmar began to change. Once fluid notions of ethnicity calcified into hard distinctions between groups. Myanmar emerged from colonial rule with an emboldened sense of diversity, but it was of a sort that was imposed, rather than having developed organically. The colonial administration’s carving up of the population meant that allegiances, and all that came with them – competition and conflict – were directed along ethnic lines, and for a military elite consisting almost solely of the Bamar Buddhist majority that sought to control every inch of the land, this posed a particular problem. It would be the job of the post-independence rulers to re-build the nation. They would construct from this mosaic of groups a single identity and bring together those currents of water as they headed towards the journey’s end. What began after the coup in 1962 was a process of forced assimilation of different identity groups into the ethnic majority sphere, and the banishing of those that would never conform to the ideal nation. In doing so, the dangers posed by other races, internal or external, to the “national race” would lessen, and the sense of unity and harmony that had been so disrupted by foreign rule would be finally returned to the country. Or so the logic went.

It is from this starting point, of illuminating the broader processes of statecraft in Myanmar over the past half century that have affected all communities, not just Muslims, that the violence of the transition is perhaps best understood. The mobs that began visiting Muslim neighbourhoods in 2012 may have done so long after these processes had started, but they signalled that the project of national unification was by no means finished.

Extract from ‘Chapter 3: The art of belonging: a peculiar transaction in Yangon’ in Myanmar’s Enemy Within: Buddhist Violence and the Making of a Muslim ‘Other’ by Francis Wade

Visit Zed Books here to buy a copy:

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Categories: Muslim blogs

Chef’s Table: Halima Saleem On Nadiya’s British Food Adventure

The Platform - Mon, 21/08/2017 - 18:11

Culinary darling of the nation Nadiya Hussain releases her latest cook book and television show

I didn’t have to read much of Nadiya’s British Food Adventure to know that I’d love this book. Her dedication note at the start to her grandparents had me hooked and I knew exactly what she was talking about. Nadiya is relatable in so many ways; without meeting her, I feel as though I have always known her. I loved flicking through the book to see all the delicious food pictures and recipes, but it was the introduction that really drew me in. Reading about Nadiya’s parents was like reading about my own mum and dad. Her childhood experiences were the same as mine, her upbringing was the same as mine, even our family roots went back to the neighbouring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Hers is a story that speaks to the many intersecting and enriching identities that make up modern Britain, and that so many can relate to. It is wonderful to see her in print and on screen.

On her television show Nadiya has been great to watch. She’s a simple soul, sharing simple recipes, in simple terms. Her cooking is heartfelt and accessible. It has been especially enjoyable watching her take a British ingredient, add a little Bengali touch to it and create something that looks amazing. The episode where Nadiya was harvesting asparagus was a favourite. Having religiously watched the series so far, and being a passionate cook myself, I couldn’t wait to start on her cookbook.

I began with the ‘Tandoori Cod Burger’ for a refreshing lunch. The recipe was incredibly simple to follow, just mixing together shop-bought tandoori masala with Greek yoghurt, salt and oil. Now, having always made my own tandoori spice mix, this was a little difficult for me, and I’ve never used yoghurt in fish marinades. Nevertheless, I went ahead and cooked the cod just as Nadiya had instructed. The recipe directed to cook the fish as soon as the marinade had been applied. I personally, would have left the fish to absorb the flavours for an hour or so, and then cooked it. While the fish was resting, I decided to toast my slices of brioche loaf. This detail however, had been left out in the recipe; it was only from watching the series that I remembered Nadiya toasting the bread. As for the fish itself, I felt it could have done with a little more zing. A little spice maybe, some freshly chopped coriander or even a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime.

Nadiya’s ‘Cardamom Banana Drop Scones’ were next on my list to try. They were absolutely delicious and will definitely be a regular dish for our table. The scones are especially good for children; my son was treated to these yummy delights for brunch and he loved them. However, I left out the bananas as we’re not too keen on them in our home. The adaptability of recipes to suit individual tastes is one of the great things about cooking.

I went on to trying out the ‘Masala Eggy Bread’. My version is made the traditional Pakistani way, where bread slices are coated with beaten egg that have been mixed with onions, tomatoes, chillies and fresh coriander, and then shallow fried. I’ve also made this dish using a method that is popular with the Bengali way of cooking, whereby chopped up bread is added to the vegetable eggy mix and then everything is cooked together. Nadiya’s recipe however, was completely different. Bread is dipped into beaten eggs and placed in the frying pan to cook. The onion mixture is scattered over the top before flipping it over. The end result is pleasant and not overpowering. However, instead of adding cumin seeds to the mixture, adding cumin powder to the beaten eggs would probably have worked better and added more taste.

Nadiya’s new book is the first cookbook to enter my kitchen, and I’m pleased to say that it will be staying there for a long time to come. There are many more recipes asking to be tried, with ‘Crab Cakes’ and ‘Country Beans’ next on my list. The layout of the book is flawless and the recipes very clearly written. However, some of the recipes do need a little attention to detail. When writing my own recipes for my readers, I ensure that they are very detailed so that when they’re replicated in other people’s kitchens the final dish looks and tastes exactly like mine.

From watching the show to exploring the recipes, I feel Nadiya’s British Food Adventure is a cookbook that is a must have for every home. It contains a variety of recipes that cover breakfast, brunch, light lunches, simple suppers and the most lushest of puddings. Nadiya’s reinvention and modernisation of classic British dishes with a bit of a Bengali twist is especially wonderful. I’m avidly looking forward to trying more recipes from the book and hope to see even more of Nadiya on the box. She’s a breath of fresh air, a mix of all my favourite television chefs rolled into one!

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Categories: Muslim blogs

G20 in Hamburg: Fears and Fractures After the Summit

The Platform - Sun, 13/08/2017 - 17:42

The 2017 G20 summit was fraught with an authoritarian structure that pushed dire global problems to the peripheries

The international forum for the governments and central bank governors of 20 major economies, known as the G20, held its annual summit in recent weeks. Conducted in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July 2017, the G20 summit this year is likely to be remembered for three reasons.

Firstly, it was yet another conference of the world’s political and economic elites, which excluded large proportions of marginalised nations from around the world whose voices are continually being ignored and deliberately silenced in international affairs. Secondly, the provocative conference was held in the famous port city’s centre, which has long been a hotbed of both left-wing and counter-cultural protest. Accordingly, the understandable outrage it sparked amongst Hamburg’s alternative and anarchist communities illustrates the high-handedness of Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government, which had envisioned a ‘festival of democracy’ that quickly turned into an Orwellian nightmare as a consequence of the authorities’ determination to curb any form of protest. And thirdly, the current world order, modelled after America’s image of both itself and its relation to the rest of the world, seems to be changing inexorably, not only as a result of the country’s increasing reluctance to continue its self-appointed role as the world’s policeman, but also because Donald Trump’s frequently repeated ‘America First’ litany lays bare the widening rift between the new administration and its counterparts in the international community.

Reductive traditions

The Group of Twenty (or G20), consisting of the heads of government of 19 major economies and representatives from the European Union, has drawn frequent criticism from intellectuals, activists and dissenting politicians from around the world. Whilst the bone of contention is not the group’s annual meeting, it is the elitist and outdated set-up – in a multi-polar world – that angers most commentators.

Dominated primarily by western countries, the G20 accounts for 85% of the gross world product (GWP), 80% of world trade and approximately half of the world land area. At first glance, these numbers suggest a wide-ranging inclusiveness, but their explanatory power is marred because well-off nations in the Euro-American world make up the bulk of the G20. Accordingly, the meetings at the G20 summits address the concerns of these countries and the institutions and networks they dominate, rather than democratising the decision-making processes in the political and economic spheres. Without taking sufficient notice of the most pressing concerns of poor and less developed areas of the world, the G20 meetings tend to perpetuate a world order, in which power, influence and wealth continue to be unevenly distributed.

Plagued by war, disease and famine, Yemen, for instance, is desperate for both attention and relief. The country situated at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula is the poorest one in the Arab world and currently facing a meltdown of its already weak political structure. But in addition to a plethora of economic, infrastructural and, most importantly, healthcare-related problems, Yemen has become the site of geo-political fissures in recent years. Tensions along the Persian Gulf littoral have been running high since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, known commonly as the Iran Nuclear Deal, brought the Islamic Republic back into the international fold in 2015. As a consequence, Iran has emerged as a serious competitor for the power wielded in this region by Saudi Arabia.

Whilst some commentators tend to paint this rivalry in the darkest colours of a convenient Islamophobic narrative (citing a long-standing religious conflict between the staunchly Sunni Arab kingdom on the one hand, and the strictly Shia Persian republic on the other), it is rooted in gross political facts. Instead of resolving these tensions around the negotiating table, both countries have become involved in a proxy war on Yemeni soil, with Iran supporting the predominantly Shia Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia trying to contain Houthi, and by implication, Iran’s influence. At the heart of this rift is, therefore, not a primarily religious or sectarian disagreement. It is the kind of conflict in which many countries were involved during the Cold War era in order to avoid ideologically driven destruction, often wreaking havoc in third countries with little or no connection to the original war parties.

But one looks in vain for Yemen making the headlines or being discussed at the G20 summit in Hamburg despite the plight of the civilian population, and it is only one example of a seemingly peripheral nation that is being ignored by complacent elites of the political and economic centres in the West.

Norway, an efficient and politically stable country that is rich in natural resources, was, like Yemen, ignored by the G20 for a long time. A prime example of a Scandinavian social democracy, Norway combines a business-friendly environment with well-funded public services. Yet, Labour-party politician Jonas Gahr Støre, the country’s former foreign secretary and incumbent leader of the opposition, characterised the G20 as “one of the greatest setbacks since World War II” in an interview with the German Spiegel magazine in 2010. Although Norway is one of the most generous contributors to international development programmes, it has no voice in what Gahr Støre called a “self-appointed group”, reminding him of the Congress of Vienna in 1814-15, at which Europe’s reactionaries attempted to roll back the liberalising tendencies inaugurated by the French Revolution. As a member of neither the European Union nor the G20, Norway’s considerable economic clout had been ignored until the current government, led by conservative Erna Solberg, was invited to attend the summit in Hamburg. However, any logical and objective criteria of who is invited or being heard at a G20 summit have yet to be made known to the public.

Provoking the Lefties

Conversely, what was announced by the authorities early on was the location of the summit in the city centre of Hamburg, as well as a 38-square-kilometre exclusion zone where protests would be forbidden. Adjacent to Hamburg’s infamous Schanzen-district and the Red Flora community centre, this zone was turned into an area in which basic democratic rights were de facto suspended because of what both the local and federal governments had called security concerns. In addition to the tensions arising from the spatial proximity of the summit and the gravity centre of Hamburg’s left-wing counter-culture, the police prevented activists from camping in areas designated for this purpose, effectively violating the verdict of a federal court that had ruled in the protesters’ favour. This chain of events exacerbated existing tensions, which had already been running high before the summit began.

Subsequent events thus followed the script of past G20 summits and similar international conferences. The important messages of anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist activists drowned in a sea of televised violence, mutual accusations and police brutality. Clandestinely inserting themselves into the protest marches, rioters from Germany and other European countries started attacking the police and looting shops. Police in riot gear stepped in and indiscriminately attacked all protesters with water cannon, citing public safety as their most pressing concern. As a consequence, even peaceful protests were disrupted and the authorities painted all protesters with the same brush, ignoring the public’s legitimate concerns over both suspended civil liberties and the ramifications of the summit’s decisions. Most importantly, however, the heavy-handed approach of the law enforcement agencies dominated the news. Calls for transnational solidarity, the democratisation of the G20 and the urgency to act decisively on man-made climate change had to take a back seat. The summit in Hamburg, and the ill-chosen venue, precluded any reasonable compromise, turning the whole event into an incredibly costly, but ultimately inefficient, appointment with the accredited photographers and journalists.

Trump on the highway

In Donald Trump’s populist counter-public, any image seems to be better than no image at all, even if that means a ‘19 to 1 standoff’. Following Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord, the G20 was bound to be fraught with difficulties. However, even experienced diplomats were somewhat surprised by how decisively the parameters of international relations had changed in the first six months of Trump’s presidency. Tom Bernes, a Canadian G20 veteran and former high-level official at the IMF, said that politicians usually arrived at international summits in a “collaborative spirit”, admitting that “sometimes you had a difficult brief, but there was a sense of collaboration.” Yet Hamburg was surprisingly different, he said. “But this time there is the America first philosophy. Trump’s attitude is, ‘It is my way or the highway.’” Writing for The Guardian, Simon Tisdall’s verdict sounds equally bleak: “Established collaborative structures – such as the UN, international law and alliances, multilateral treaties and human rights conventions – are being tested to destruction or being repudiated outright. Last weekend’s G20 summit of the planet’s most powerful leaders, far from steadying the nerves, only added to the sense of a downward spiral.”

What, one might ask, has happened since Trump took office in January 2017? Having campaigned on a “nationalist, isolationist, protectionist and xenophobic agenda,” as Simon Tisdall explains, Trump is ready to withdraw from institutions and agreements that, no matter how flawed and lopsided they may be, have so far ensured a modicum of stability and international cooperation in times of crisis. By furthering his populist crusade in this fashion, Trump perpetuates the so-called “City upon a Hill”-attitude that is at the heart of the damaging fiction of American exceptionalism, or the belief that the US has both the duty and the right to create a world after its own image. Initially used by Puritan leader John Winthrop to admonish his co-religionists to lead a righteous life in the New World, this phrase has not only entered the American lexicon but has also served as a frequent justification if US leaders considered it expedient to take unilateral action in world affairs.

Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord is only the latest example of this detrimental strand in western, and especially US, history and intervention. For other leaders from around the world, this means that they have to come closer together, increase the levels of international cooperation and democratise the institutions in which the international community is transacting its affairs. The alternative is a politically fragmented world, in which populism and authoritarian solutions determine our lives. It is thus upon all of us to provide an alternative vision for the future, in which solidarity, cooperation and open borders frame a better life for the many rather than just the privileged few. But we can only implement this sea change in the political and economic arenas if we continue to challenge reductive traditions in order to become more inclusive, question hegemonic narratives of Euro-American modernity and speak truth to power in times of crisis.

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