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Poem: February Finds Me Struck Down With Flu

Fri, 22/02/2019 - 16:39

February finds me struck down with flu.
Between the sneezing and spring cleaning my room
I text a French teacher friend who’s off-work too.
He was born in northern Lille:
If he takes a wrong turn, he finds himself in Belgium.
I tell him,
We take a wrong turn here in Britain
We drive into the sea.
He laughs at me; thanks me for the image.
He’s not sure he’ll be able to remain
In this island nation with too few teachers.
And I too mourn the passing of my right,
To belong beyond foreign borders.
And as if Sajid Javid is keeping tabs on my WhatsApp,
In the same hour it turns out that
Citizenship is a construct so abstract
Within a midnight it can collapse flat.
We care if children are groomed and raped,
But not if their skin isn’t quite the right shade,
Not if it’s too difficult to pronounce their name.
And when I say I’m disturbed by this approach,
Strangers tell me my citizenship should also be revoked.
And funnily enough,
They’re the same people who hate Mari Kondo,
The foreigner come to steal our books.
Well judging by your logic, mate,
You’ve never picked one up.
Within seconds, truths distorted,
You’ve resorted to curses and personal comments.
“What language do you speak, Amber-Page Marilyn,
Is it bollocks?”
Well I’m sorry,
But I don’t understand how standing up for our own laws
Imply that I support
So-called Islamic State.
It is impossible to debate
With those
Who must have never looked at a globe
Because they think Bangladesh and Syria are the same.
And a child born and raised in Bethnal Green
Can be made
Into someone else’s problem.
But I’d rather see homegrown terrorists locked in a homegrown prison,
Not left free to carry on plotting against homegrown civilians,
Not the responsibility of a country she did not live in,
Which her sin was not committed in,
A sin which she has yet to face trial and be convicted of.
And our government pull strings like puppets,
With no more power than to appease the mob.
So looks like our laws only apply to those that we approve of.
But in the face of extremist chaos, our laws are all we’ve got.
This is not a question of guilt or innocence,
But of our democratic principles.
What kind of victors
Will we be now that we’ve won the war?
Won’t we uphold British values; the rights of minors; one rule for all
That no one in this land can stand above or below the law,
Neither teenage terrorists nor
Appointed members of the Cabinet.
And all these calls for banishment,
All this ‘she’s made her bed, she’s lying it in’,
Thus holding British girls to Shariah standards,
All that you say is horrifically reminiscent of ISIS.
But I would never accuse you of being one of them,
Because that would be ridiculous.
As ridiculous as this is –
Not to hold up our own citizens to our own definitions.
And they must be laughing at us
So hard,
For attempting their own rhetoric against them.
Aren’t we supposed to be the vaguely Christian, secular brand of western?
Aren’t we the ones who don’t bay for blood, revenge, beheadings?
Since when did the crime of the parent become the crime of the children?
Don’t we stand for equality, representation, compassion?
Don’t we recognise that there are no easy answers?
Your black and white knee-jerk reaction is a fallacy.
And no, I also can’t comprehend this case’s complexity.
That’s why we have lawyers to uphold our law’s consistency .
Because this is not the thirteenth century.
This is not an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,
Drowning old women in local ponds, the Inquisition expelling Jews.
This is democracy.
There are structures, procedures, jurisdictions, rules.
They do not slip because one side shouts the loudest,
Or threatens the most violence,
Like Samson tearing down the temple.
This is David and Goliath,
When the world is overturned because little boys took down giants.
We know what happens when the moderate majority are quiet,
We have seen this all before.
If you stay silent, there’s no one left to speak
When you’re the one they come for.
Well I won’t be waiting for them to come and break down my door.
I stand within the pentacle of protection,
The privilege of my white skin, my English name,
And My Oxbridge education.
I will be one of the last ones standing
On the edge of this island nation,
To fall in to the sea.

And unless you use your advantage while you have the chance,
You’re going to be drowning along with me.

Categories: Muslim blogs

Working Class Britain: Hold Your Head High for Not “Making It”

Sun, 17/02/2019 - 10:49

Working class culture and heritage are things to be proud of

What I hear more and more these days, whether from politicians, social commentators or just liberal facebookers, is this – “class doesn’t exist anymore”, “forget about class, it’s all about people” or “why are you always banging on about being working class?”

But social relationships do not just skip in and out of existence depending on whether or not an individual self-identifies as being working class or upper class, or indeed because people say they don’t believe in class. Didn’t Thatcher and Blair bang on about a class-less society whilst sticking it to the less well off? Social differences are real.

There exist different groups of people who play diverse socio-political roles. The upper and higher middle classes control the system and run it for their own benefit. And there exists a group of individuals within this capitalist society that have been systemically denied any meaningful participation in the governance and administration of society and the economy. Their attempts to seize political or economic power by means of labour struggles and other endeavours are heavily suppressed. Collectively, this group is exploited and enslaved by the ruling class and this is watched over by the upper middle class. That group is the working class. Its existence is fact.

So, it’s not a choice that one can make: if you are working class, you just are. It’s not a question of being proud just because of your class, or because of the traditions, culture or heritage of your people, regardless of whether they are positive or negative. Working class traditions, ways of life and political beliefs change all the time. But this is about having pride in your background and understanding its value.

We see other classes, cultures and traditions celebrated implicitly and loudly, yet working class people are meant to forget their own. Upper class politics and traditions are what they are…err… rowing and yachting regattas, or shooting weekends at daddy’s estate. As for the middle class, well…rugger buggers, attending balls…tea with the vicar, village jamborees, pony-riding? So, what is working class culture then? Jesus, it can be a load of stuff, as I’ll soon explain.

What I always find a bit weird is this attitude about the working class guy that “did well”. That guy who got through to university despite his working class upbringing. You made it, must have been awful! Well done! As if aspiring to be middle class and upper class is the goal or the best you can be.

People who spend their lives working for the local community, for their workers’ union, or caring for sick people for little reward, who worked their bollocks off for decades in a boring job to put food on the table, are never held up as achievers. Yet the few working class people who manage to “better” themselves, despite their disadvantages, are held up as some kind of role model for people to look up to. And I’m not knocking working class people bettering themselves, or going to university. I wish that more people did and could do both. I very often hear people who went to university sitting around talking about what great times they were. But is it not okay for people who never went to university to talk about other life experiences?

If the official time it takes to get to adulthood is 18 years, then even disregarding the fact that most of us take much longer to find our feet, that’s still at least 18 years’ worth of experience working class people are expected to blithely toss aside at the first taste of balsamic vinegar. TPeople think it is okay to tell me I should forget about all of that. Forget about your past, stop discussing your experiences – it’s not relevant anymore!

The industrial working class, as it was, doesn’t exist in the UK now. Yet today, the working class is made up of unemployed and low paid workers, zero-hour workers in blue and white collar jobs. Teachers too are working class – of course they are (in fact, they are some of the most militant trade unionists around!) – along with nurses, self-employed people, skilled workers, and the list goes on.

And what is our culture if not one of class? Am I proud to be British or English? Why? I think it is far healthier to be proud of your class than to be proud of some flag-waving, nationalistic, empty loyalty, with its hate-filled negative connotations.

I choose to take from the culture I know – in fact, I have no other choice. So, I take the good and the bad. I take the history of the working class fightbacks. From Peterloo to Grenfell communities, people standing together and helping each other. I take the struggle of the miners.

What is taught in school is bullshit that has nothing to do with me; the history of the British Empire, the queens and kings. The history of the struggles of ordinary people is not taught even though it should be. Those traditions and that history should be preserved and passed on.

I’m proud of the community spirit, the need to fight for justice, the determination to try and live a decent life. And the ability for lots of working communities to embrace multiculturalism far more than other classes. I take all that, along with the humour, the story-telling, the music, the fashion and more.

Of course, it is not all positive. We can look at the rise of the fascists in the ‘70s but I prefer to look at the anti-fascist struggle against them. I prefer to look at punk and Two-tone and the positive things they brought up. I prefer to recall the proud working class history of my local football club.

In fact, the worst aspects of working class culture are now basically middle class too. “Lad” culture is a good example: many middle class guys trying to slum it with the working class “plebs”. I spent my youth trying to get away from lad culture. I dismissed it as bullshit. But I discovered positive aspects of working class culture that are worth being proud of:

The ability to fight through hard times.

The ability to come together in times of hardship.

The ability to be individual, humorous and hard working.

The ability to help others and fight for others.

There’s a lot wrong with working class traditions and lifestyles. But the working class is a tradition, a culture, a social heritage and a history.

When I watch England play in footy, what exactly am I proud of? I’m English, proud to be. But proud of what? I’m proud of the working class and all that it represents. I am not there to be proud of the bleeding Queen, the bloody Generals and toffs, the universities and the private schools, Rule bleeding Britannia, and tea and scones. I am proud of my locality, my friends, family, the history, the fantastic music, the struggles of my class. And I’m proud to pass on all these things to my son.

What with the Brexit fiasco, increasing economic hardship for many, xenophobia and deepening divisions within British society, we need to hold onto and build our community, and we need to learn more about our class backgrounds – maybe now more than ever.

Photo: Shirley Baker

Categories: Muslim blogs

If Beale Street Could Talk: An Unusual Protest Film

Sat, 09/02/2019 - 10:22

Barry Jenkins takes the magic of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk to produce a film that elevates young black love amidst rising mass incarceration of 1970s USA

* Contains spoilers

US films The Farm: Angola, USA (1998), After Innocence (2005), The Central Park Five (2012), Kids for Cash (2013), and most recently Ava DuVernay’s 13th (2016), have explored the brutality of mass incarceration and the United States criminal justice system in both fiction and documentary. Unlike these, however, Barry Jenkins’ new Oscar-nominated adaptation, If Beale Street Could Talk (2018), holds also to a steadfast commitment to being a story about young black love.

The film, based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, portrays Clementine “Trish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) and her fiancé Alfonso “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) as the Romeo and Juliet of early ‘70s Harlem. Their commitment to each other defies the stars – and white supremacy in the United States – that align against them.

In this story, the ubiquity of white supremacy and sexual exploitation, rather than the tensions between Fonny and Trish’s family, cause the main afflictions for the lovers. One fateful night, after the love-struck pair finally finds a landlord willing to rent a flat to a young black couple, Fonny fights off an Italian-American man who sexually harasses Trish at a convenience store. In defending himself and his fiancé, Fonny attracts the attention of a racist policeman, Officer Bell, who is eager to haul Fonny to jail for assault. Enraged that he does not win the support of witnesses, Bell later avenges himself by framing Fonny for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman. Bell’s perverted anger against Fonny, his lust for Trish and his manipulation of the victim’s memory of her own rape, stand in stark contrast to the purity of love and warmth between Trish and Fonny – and the kindness among the small community of people who work hard to save the couple from the heartlessness of New York City’s criminal justice system.

After the riots of the mid to late ‘60s, Harlem was emblematic of both the city’s vibrancy and its decay. Despite persistent calls for community programmes rather than imprisonment, a “tough on crime” rhetoric led to a massive rise of the United States’ prison population during the ‘70s, focusing heavily on New York City (see Marked: Race, Crime, and Finding Work in an Era of Mass Incarceration by Devah Pager). According to reporter German Lopez, “In response to a tide of higher crime over the preceding decade, state and federal lawmakers passed measures that increased the length of prison sentences for all sorts of crimes, from drugs to murder.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that the incarcerated population has increased by 700 per cent since the 1970s, with black men imprisoned six times the rate of white men, and the incarcerated population of black women double that of white women.

Explicit allusion to this historical context is largely absent from Jenkins’ Beale Street, which chooses instead to celebrate the beauty of romantic and familial love. Yet this exploration of young love, rather than a more direct documentation of crime and imprisonment policies, is in line with Baldwin’s own priorities; he dismisses “protest” novels, from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Richard Wright’s Native Son, as pamphlets rather than literature. In his 1949 essay, Everybody’s Protest Novel, he writes, “[T]he avowed aim of the American protest novel is to bring greater freedom to the oppressed. They are forgiven, on the strength of these good intentions, whatever violence they do to language, whatever excessive demands they make of credibility.” The protest novel, overly simplistic, moralistic and sentimental, he writes, becomes “an accepted and comforting aspect of the American scene” because it dedicates to its cause, not to the complexity of the human experience.

It is no surprise that Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Beale Street is, similarly, not like other films about mass incarceration, as it focuses even more on the love theme than Baldwin perhaps intended. Unlike the film, Baldwin’s novel explores the ugliness and psychological ramifications of the United States’ justice system through Fonny’s desires, desperation and “stink” – down to the graphic stickiness of his unwashed body and his bodily fluids when he is in jail. The film erases the novel’s examination of Fonny’s own family and the tragedy of his father’s life, and even excises the vulnerability of Fonny’s childhood friend and ex-con Daniel, with whom Fonny reconnects before he is wrongfully imprisoned. Daniel, framed for car theft, recounts to Fonny and Tish the wretched stench, shit and sickness that surrounded him when he was first incarcerated, and painfully opens up about the trauma of seeing men raped and being raped himself.

The film shies away from these images of abjection, and indeed evokes the nostalgic beauty of its ‘70s Harlem setting. It focuses primarily on the depth of Trish and Fonny’s love, the gentleness with which they hold each other and the ease in which they look into each other’s eyes. From Trish’s parents, Sharon and Joseph (played by Regina King and Colman Domingo respectively), they inherit an enviable ability to rise above the trauma of the mass incarceration, poverty and violence that surrounds them.

A central message about mass imprisonment only emerges towards the end of the film through a short historical montage showing black men being arrested and detained – the briefness of which may seem to weaken the film’s political ambitions. However, the film’s preservation of the poetic beauty of Harlem, and of Trish and Fonny, succeed in presenting the image of a people who find a way even in a dead end – a people whose love remains undeterred by the forces that threaten to tear them down and rip them apart.

Photo: If Beale Street Could Talk

Categories: Muslim blogs

Facing Extinction: New Book Explores the Ongoing Genocide of the Rohingya

Thu, 07/02/2019 - 20:30

A meticulous, fact-based and historical approach to the ongoing Rohingya genocide 

From 25 August 2017, as the horror of the brutal ethnic cleansing of Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims unfolded, I found myself immersed in Al Jazeera’s coverage of the news while working there. Within a few weeks from that fateful day up to 680,000 Rohingya people took shelter in neighbouring Bangladesh, leaving behind their homes in Rakhine State and carrying with them the harrowing stories of death, destruction, rape and other forms of barbarity committed by the Myanmar army and chauvinist Buddhists. Sadly, the crisis didn’t begin on that terrible day. Al-Jazeera had been diligently covering the Rohingya plight since 2012.

The Myanmar government has been deploying the infamous post-9/11 rhetoric – the “global war on terror” – to justify its actions, using the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA) as an excuse to destroy the whole population. ARSA, a small rag tag group with no support from the Rohingya, first emerged in October 2016 when they killed nine police officers in northern Rakhine. This resulted in the systematic attacks on the Rohingya. An adviser to the European Center for the Study of Extremism, Maung Zarni, told Al Jazeera that “this is not a terrorist group aimed at striking at the heart of Myanmar society as the government claims it is, they’re a group of hopeless men who decided to form some kind of self-defence group and protect their people who are living in conditions akin to a Nazi concentration camp.”

The Rohingya, a minority ethnic Muslim group numbering between 1.6 to 1.8 million, have been living in Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine, with connections to the land since the 8th century. However, they are not considered by the regime as one of 135 official ethnic groups and were stripped of citizenship rights from 1982, after facing a series of vicious evictions since 1978.

The media and human rights groups have reported on the intense human rights violations carried out by the Myanmar military since the October 2016 ARSA attacks. In late November, Human Rights Watch released satellite images which showed that about 1,250 Rohingya houses in five villages had been burned down by the security forces. Many Rohingya have fled Myanmar as refugees to take shelter in nearby Bangladesh, particularly in the coastal town of Cox’s Bazaar. Since 2017 there has been an influx of 919,000 refugees who have been displaced from their villages in Rakhine state. Most have joined the 300,000 Rohingya already residing in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazaar following their displacement in previous years.

I first came across the Rohingya crisis in 2013 when I watched a documentary called The Hidden Genocide. It was a testimony of a people fleeing the land where they were born and had lived for generations. But what informed me more about the Rohingya is Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari’s book The Rohingya Crisis: A People Facing Extinction published in May 2018. In it, in a concise yet detailed way, he brings to light the scale and barbarity of their suffering, especially since the military takeover of Myanmar in 1962.

Dr Bari provides a commentary on the history and the current predicament of the Rohingya people. His book, which takes a meticulous evidence-based approach, provides a denunciation of Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing campaign. He proves, from expert opinions, that what the Rohingya are going through is nothing less than genocide and argues that the international community, through the UN, must ensure their full repatriation to their homeland with full citizen rights. Myanmar refuses to acknowledge the status of the Rohingya as a people with a history in Rakhine State, instead insisting that they are Bangladeshi immigrants who should return to Bangladesh. The government has gone so far as to refuse to use the word Rohingya to describe them, using “Bengali” instead.

The nine chapters in Dr Bari’s book cover the origin of the Arakanese (now called Rakhine) Muslims, how Arakan thrived before colonialism, the period of colonisation and its aftermath, Myanmar’s actions against the Rohingya, and rape and crimes against women and children. It also includes the definition of genocide, how the Rohingya persecution has fit this definition, how geopolitical and other factors have so far failed to help the Rohingya in their plight, and lastly but perhaps most importantly, what should be done.

The writer draws a historical picture to verify the longstanding connection between the Rohingya and Rakhine State, dating back to the 8th century when Arab Muslim traders first traded in the area. Notably, in the early 15th century, with the patronage of the Sultan of Bengal, Jalal-ud-din Mohamed Shah, the Arakanese King, Min Saw-Mun, won his throne back and took in a large contingent of Bengal Muslims to Arakan in 1430. In subsequent centuries, even though the Arakan kings were Buddhist, Muslims became part and parcel of Arakan and contributed heavily in statecraft, business, culture and commerce.

Dr Bari highlights the humanity shown by Bangladesh to the Rohingya refugees. However, he criticises the two regional powers, China and India, for their failure to put pressure on Myanmar to solve the crisis and their focus instead on their own economic and political interests. He mentions the less-than satisfactory role of Myanmar’s former colonial power, Britain, as well as the UN impotence in bringing Myanmar to task and facilitating the repatriation of the Rohingya with their citizenship rights. He also emphasises the lack of leadership and embarrassing unwillingness of Myanmar’s civil leader, the Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to intervene.

Dr Bari quotes Professor Gregory Stanton’s definition of Genocide which consists of eight phases: classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation preparation, extermination and a denial of a people. He echoes with some prominent individuals that the depth and breadth of persecution of the Rohingya is nothing less than genocide.

It will soon be 25 years since the genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia took place, yet the term “never again” that was promised after the Holocaust is becoming hollow as the world refuses to learn from the mistakes of the past. Dr Bari’s book is a plea to action to the international community, politicians, advocacy groups and civic leaders. His book serves as an excellent resource and facts-based deposition that I would recommend for anyone who wants to know more about the history of the Rohingya, the current situation and what should be done. It is a book that should be read by all, and particularly those interested in human rights and justice, and those who want to prevent the atrocities of the past being committed again.

The Rohingya Crisis: A People Facing Extinction by Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is available for purchase from Kube Publishing.


Categories: Muslim blogs