Is Islam good for London: A Perspective

Is Islam Good for London? 

Having attended, what was purported to be, a debate about Islam in London, I must admit I feel sorry for Londoners. For two reasons:
– it appears that way too many people intensely dislike Muslims.
– Muslims are most likely partly to blame. 

I am happy to be a South African Muslim for two reasons:
– I don’t feel any hatred or animosity from people back home, for just being Muslim.
– South Africa has more opportunities and better prospects for ‘spearheading’ Islam in the non-Muslim world.  

Before coming to London, the exposure I had from the high profile speakers and quality publications that come out of here, I believed that this is the place wherefrom those in the forefront of taking Islam forward will be coming from. 

The bourgeoisie debate, attended by Jemima Khan amongst others was hosted by the Evening Standard (apparently a right-wing publication) and was by invite only (which upset me at first, but I was able to get in anyways and at some point make myself heard.)

The debate certainly did not conform to what I had understood as proper English manners and debate decorum. Rather, it was a shouting match and personal attacks between the line-up on the panel; who although may may not be pathetic individuals, but together, given the topic, the climate and the idiots in the audience; it turned out to be a depressing pathetic panel!  

Rod Liddle (my favourite for the night) just kept saying he didn’t mind Muslims but loathed Islam for various reasons. I think his understanding of Islam, as he explained, was just as marred as those who give Islam a bad name. I do however respect him for being consistent throughout the night, unlike the guy next to him, Ed Husain.  

Ed Husain (an ex-Hizbut Tahrir guy) who has become a famous author, famous in a somewhat similar way to Salman Rushdie has managed to identify what certain people want to hear, so he continues to say just that. Ed Hussain was extremely inconsistent in his thoughts and opinions, and as Rod Liddle put it, he may have left HT but is still the idiot that joined them and his intelligence seems to have not increased since he has acquired this newfound liberal popularity. 

Inayat Bunglawala (of the Muslim Council of Britain) was definitely unfairly targeted. But justified or not, he clearly has made a few mistakes and said a few things in the past. To give him some credit he tried hard to ward off attacks against his person and still level a fairly decent argument, and together with Rod, the only consistent person on the stage.  

Joan Smith (a feminist and atheist) was exceptionally irritating. I have met many feminist and atheist in my life, but none that annoy me as much as this woman who uses both as titles in a manner that I assume would disappoint many feminists and atheists.  I guess this doesn’t say much about the debate; probably coz the debate was more entertaining than informative. It was more of a show than a productive discussion.  

But one thing is clear, at least from the little discussion that did go on, and from the comments from the audience – Islam is here in the UK in full force and is here to stay, and both Muslims and their non-Muslim counterparts need to work together to make sure that things improve going forward. Muslims can’t continue to live in virtual enclaves, and the rest of society here can’t continue to ignore them and pretend that they are not here.

‘Sour’ism

In my relative short stay in the UK, I have been able to attend many interesting and informative lectures and events. A recent one turned out to be a tad different- the first sign was the queues outside the venue. Who queues to listen to a lecture, I thought. But this was a high profile lecture that had attracted the level of attention it seems it intended to attract.   

The speaker was a Maajid Nawaz, an ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir, senior member. To my knowledge, the group does not have a very visible presence in South Africa, so I was interested in the inside scoop from this ex-member. I guess I was misinformed; because an inquest into the faults and flounders of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) was not forthcoming. Maajid is a brilliant public speaker, perhaps a trait that served well in HT, which I came to understand, is a political movement. A political movement with an Islamic ideology. To be honest, I was not sure what HT was about before the lecture, and I am still not sure.

But this is what I took away from the lecture.  Maajid explained his colourful history with HT, and some of the interesting experiences he had with them- from establishing HT as the power on his college, to spending time in a jail in Egypt. I was loving this guy and savouring every word he so eloquently delivered.  But as he went on, I found it difficult following his logic.

For the sake of brevity, and to convey my understanding, I will merely explain the picture he painted in my head. ‘HT wants to establish an Islamic state. This is a fallacy that cannot exist in the world as we know it.’ (I could not agree more.)  But then he somehow came to the conclusion that, ‘Islam is not meant to interfere with politics. Islam is about your spirituality and personal life- for your political life you need to rely on pragmatism and logic only.’ 

Based on my base knowledge of HT, this thought of his seemed like the direct opposite, and most definitely not the balanced view. And when challenged by some of the audience members, apparent HT members and not, Maajid shamefully either evaded most of the challenging questions, or merely failed to respond in an intelligent manner.  

I knew little of HT before this lecture, and I still don’t know much. I must admit that this has encouraged me to look into them at some point and see for myself what they are about. However, for what I have benefited from this lecture, I am thankful. 

I remember not the challenging questions from the eloquent sister on Maajids view on ‘Islamism’, or the elderly gentleman’s caution against using ‘loaded’ terminology or the young mans implied accusation that this was a publicity stunt.  What I do remember is that Maajid mentioned his blog too many times. I could almost imagine him saying, ‘And if you visit my blog today, you will get an opportunity to be a member of my political campaign!’

Because that is the impression that soured my thoughts- was this guy just here on a PR campaign to build his reputation as a politician? Why was he saying the ‘right’ things, quoting the ‘right’ people and making it known of his association with the ‘right’ people?  The advert to the lecture asked these questions- What should Muslim politics really look like? How do we disentangle Islamism from Islam? Should our political attention not be more focused on developing our communities, contributing to wider society, and using all the democratic means at our disposal to inform, campaign and lobby on the greater issues affecting the Muslim world? Sadly, I don’t see how this came even close to answering any of them.  

The City Circle brother at the end made it clear that City Circle is an open platform for discussion and debate. I remember thinking to myself, this is brilliant. This is exactly what Muslims need- a platform where different thoughts, opinions and views can be expressed. Because from this, we can only grow and improve these thoughts, opinions and views and hence become better Muslims and better people.

But sadly, this brother messed it all up by resorting to juvenile insults of HT. And I didn’t need to be a member of HT to then leave with a sour taste in my mouth!

First Iraq, now Iran?

The United States has announced its harshest action against Iran since 1979 by instituting a raft of unilateral sanctions designed to cut international financial support to Iran. Condoleezza Rice (US Secretary of State) said that the unprecedented steps, which include outlawing Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, were a response to “Teheran’s support of insurgents in Iraq and its refusal to abandon its uranium enrichment programme”. 

There are two alleged reasons for the sanctions:
1) Teheran’s support of terrorists.
2) Weapons of mass destruction.
 

Does this sound vaguely familiar? Saddam Husain was responsible for 9/11 and for having weapons of mass destruction – neither of which were proved. Follow this conversation with Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, who said that two important militants who were captured in Iraq, “have acknowledged during interrogations that senior leadership within the al-Quds* force knew of and supported planning attacks on US soldiers(The al-Quds unit, the foreign operations branch, within Iran’s elite revolutionary guards corps is accused of supporting fighters in Iraq that has led to the deaths of US soldiers.) 

First, Mr. Bergner’s assertion: “Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity.”Now, the follow-ups:
Question: Can you define senior leadership?”
Mr. Bergner: I think I’ll leave it at that.”
Question: Would you exclude the supreme leader?”
Mr. Bergner: “I’ll leave it at senior leadership in Iran?”
Question: “Put it this way: Do you think it’s possible that he doesn’t know?”
Mr. Bergner: ‘’That would be hard to imagine.”

A tough question indeed: from intelligence to imagination in four steps.

The Iranian government has repeatedly denied supporting militants or stirring up trouble in Iraq, and has said that, ‘it only wants the country to be stable and peaceful.’ But Britain and France don’t think so, and have sided with the US, with Brown going as far as pledging to lead the campaign for new EU and UN sanctions. It seems Gordon Brown is to Rice as Blair was to Bush. Rice says Iran is pursuing nuclear technologies that can lead to a nuclear weapon, building dangerous ballistic missiles, supporting Shia militants in Iraq and terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Palestine, and denying the existence of a fellow member of the United Nations, threatening to wipe Israeli off the map.”

It may not mean much but both China and Russia are not supporting the US. Rice has urged China, Russia and India to back the sanctions against Iran. President Putin of Russia warned strongly against sanctions on Iran, saying they would lead to a dead end. He said the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program should be resolved through talks, pointing at North Korea as an example. “Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action. Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.” the Russian leader said.

Predictably, the Prime Minister of Israel (a state that repeatedly defies international law, that has nuclear weapons, and still has full support of the US administration) Mr Olmert said: “Economic sanctions are effective. They have an important impact already, but they are not sufficient. So there should be more. Up to where? Up until Iran will stop its nuclear programme.”

This is insane. In no uncertain terms, he is calling for a war against Iran. Now if he made this statement in Hebrew, and the western media had to translate it, would it be translated as him calling for Iran to be wiped off the map?

So, what will the sanctions do? Remember Iraq? As John Pilger wrote a while back, before 1990 and the imposition of sanctions, Iraq had one of the highest standards of living in the Middle East.”

And now, after sanctions at least 200 children died every day from malnutrition, lack of clean water and lack of medical equipment and drugs to cure easily treatable diseases. Morphine, the most effective painkiller has been banned by the Security Council.
 In 1990 Iraq had one of the highest rates of literacy in the world. For all its evil, the government still built schools, trained teachers, and distributed free textbooks and other school supplies.

And after sanctions this system was gradually destroyed over a short period of 10 years. Iraqi teacher salaries fell from $400 to $3 per month. There were no school supplies: books, pencils and paper are all banned under ‘dual use’ considerations. We are told that pencils are forbidden because carbon could be extracted from them that might be used to coat aeroplanes and make them invisible to radar. I am not a military expert, but I find it very disturbing that because of this objection, we cannot give pencils to Iraqi school children.” (Farid Zarif, deputy director of the UN humanitarian program in Baghdad. New York Times, 3 January 1999)

But what is the real reason for the sanctions and threats against Iran? Surely no sane person will believe that these ridiculous claims are accurate – especially anyone who followed the ruckus that went on before Iraq was unjustifiably attacked. The question is – Is all this just about oil?

Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the private bank known as the Federal Reserve, discloses in his book the public secret that, the motive for the war against Iraq was rooted in oil: “I’m saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: The Iraq war was largely about oil. I thought the issue of weapons of mass destruction as the excuse was utterly beside the point”. To what extent history will repeat itself now that it’s not oil-rich Iraq (but its oil-rich neighbour Iran) is being accused of producing weapons of mass destruction by the same people that invaded Iraq on the basis of arguments and accusations which may quite possibly be false?

After ‘democracy’ was declared in Iraq. John Pilger wrote that “the main reason was oil. Under a law written by American and British officials, the Iraqi puppet regime is about to hand over the extraction of the largest concentration of oil on earth to Anglo-American companies. Nothing like this piracy has happened before. Across the Shatt al-Arab waterway the other prize: Iran’s vast oilfields. Just as non-existent weapons of mass destruction or facile concerns for democracy had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, so non-existent nuclear weapons have nothing to do with an American onslaught on Iran.” It appears evident that this war is not about terrorism, WMD, or any other ridiculous claim, but about money. This is an excerpt of his statement to US Senators who accused him of corruption in 2005:

“Now, Senator, I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted. I gave my political life’s blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by the sanctions on Iraq which killed one million Iraqis, most of them children, most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason other than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to born at that time. I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq. And I told the world that your case for the war was a pack of lies 

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims did not have weapons of mass destruction. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to al-Qaeda. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9/11 2001. I told the world, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end, but merely the end of the beginning.”

Will the same happen to Iran? Are the children of Iran going to suffer? And is the world going to sit by quietly while this happens? What will you do?