There are two recent articles that are worth a critical read because, while from the secularist-left, they both provide a response to left-liberal Islamophobia. Both articles provide a more complex view of Islamic movements, than some of the other outright Islamophobic liberal-leftists.
I'll first comment on some of the assertions made by Hisham Bustani and then, in another post later this week, address some of the issues raised by Ali Abunimah.
Bustani correctly concludes his interview with the following:
" Overall and as a prime desideratum, there is a huge and pressing imperative today for Left unity, of all its currents: the left of the Islamic movement, the left of the nationalist movement, and the left of the leftist progressive and revolutionary movement, on the basis of a program of resistance, liberation, and political clarity. The opposing Right of all those currents is already united and taking action."
Bustani recognizes the importance of the secular left uniting with (the left of) Islamic movements - he appears to have some understanding that the secular left is largely irrelevant, and have only a small, if any, mass base amongst Muslims anywhere in the world.
" Of course, there are also opportunist leftists (NGO beneficiaries and Marxists-turned-liberals) and xenophobic nationalists (with fascist tendencies against Iranians, Kurds, and Turks), but these phenomena are only trivial, since their currents are too weak to take the streets and challenge existing power."
The force and power of the secular left-liberal is amongst the anti-war groupings in the US and Europe, i.e within the heart of the empire. More often than not, these left-liberals (mostly Whites) will give voice to unrepresentative secularists from Muslim majority countries, who will then proceed to demonize Islamic groups in a language similar to the neo-cons. This same language (example: "mullah" and "ayatullah" bashing) is then picked up by the left-liberals, and replayed over and over and over again in articles and at supposedly anti-war talks and events.
Because the secularists do not have a mass base, if there is to be "unity" of the sort that Bustani suggests, then we all must also take into account this relative insignificance of left-liberal groups and individuals. The secularist ideology of small (often elite) minorities cannot be allowed to dictate to a mass that obviously has a far more religious social identity. This is the point, over which, Islamic movements will inevitably clash with secularists. There is no way any self-respecting Muslim will hang out with any secularist-leftist group of individuals, who insist on portraying themselves as superior to a religious faith.
Of-course, the Islamic groups are all not the same, and, as Bustani correctly points out, some are indeed outright opportunists, and so this is not to suggest that Muslims should not also take a critical look at the Islamic movements. But such a critical look must be from within Islam, with a goal of moving the movements towards developing a social justice framework rooted in Islam - not towards an anti-religious secular (separate everything) direction, as has been the opportunistic projects of "moderate/progressive/enlightened moderate" Muslims.
The second prime project in the Arab region is the Iranian project. Its problematic aspect is that it is not a liberation project, but rather it is predicated on an agenda of expansion with nationalist and sectarian aspects. Although it collides with the U.S. and its imperialist orientation, the Iranian regime's struggle with imperialism is on the basis of benefits and spheres of influence, not geared to a politics of liberation.
There is some truth to what Bustani states, but not entirely: There is no question that there are sections of Iranian politics that are indeed sectarian, but if Iran's support of Hizbullah is any indiction, it also true that the movements that may have been once nurtured by Iran are also by and large independent. Notions that one hears from the left, from time to time, that Iran is in control of all politics of Hizbullah (i.e. making it sectarian) do not jive with how indigenous movements evolve and grow - and the fact that they cannot have such wide popularity, and a huge mass base if they were not indigenous.
If Hizbullah does not have as much of a mass following in Lebanon's Sunni communities, then the finger must be pointed to the sectarianism perpetuated by "Saudi" Arabia that has effectively poisoned (at the behest of the US) Islamic discourse amongst many Sunnis. Indeed it was "Saudi" who, recognizing the threat that the Islamic Revolution of Iran posed to their power, and the wide popularity that it enjoyed amongst large numbers of Sunnis, went into high gear, publishing anti-Shi'a tracts, and books that demonized Imam Khomeni's ideological content. In this respect, they were far more successful than the demonization campaign carried out by the United States, and the lslamophobic left-liberals. Infact, we saw the sectarian demonization by the "Saudis" go into high gear again, immediately after the 33 day war, when Hizbullah had gained wide popularity amongst many Sunnis.
Iran no doubt has its flaws, but the Islamic Revolution - as a "project" was "sectarian" only because Iran is predominately Shi'a --- the actual ideological content is, infact, anti-sectarian. If Iran has more recently veered off this path somewhat, then that is a reflection of internal political struggles and factions. And this is where (as Bustani correctly implies) Muslims also need to identify those currents within Iran, and within Islamic movements that are indeed anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist, and pursue the development of an Islamic vision of a socially just society - that is also not based on narrow nationalisms.
Some liberal-leftists have made some good statements against the absurdity going on this week on various US college campuses (supposedly institutions of "higher learning," increasingly, US universities have become institutions of higher indoctrination). And then there are some liberal-leftists who, while rightly attacking the extremists on US college campuses, don't appear to be interested in Muslim self-determination.
For these liberal-leftists, similar to the neo-cons, there is a criteria of who they would consider to be a "good Muslim." This "good Muslims" is not one who might choose to think, and live a life independent of both the extremist right wing, and also independent of those who are posing as friends of Muslims - but who have little or zero respect for that which Muslims hold dearest: Islam.
Barbara Ehrenreich in an article titled "It's Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" strongly critiques and exposes the college campus right wing extremists. Most of the article sounds more or less OK --- and then she has this to say:
"If many Muslim women around the world willingly don head scarves today, it’s in part because our war in Iraq has, tragically, pushed them to value religious solidarity above their feminist instincts."
We see, once again, that liberal-left solidarity with Muslims is limited in its scope - in this case, if a Muslim woman "dons" a "head scarf" --- she is a tragedy! Furthermore, for Ehrenreich it is inconceivable that "many Muslim women" would chose to wear the "head scarf" out of a sense of religious values that hold more true than some notion of "feminist instincts" (read white feminist instincts). For her, it must be something to do with something she calls "religious solidarity" - and not a value that a Muslim woman may arrive at through a spiritual journey, and soul searching - whereby some women wear the hijab, and some may choose not to, and some may have some other views.
The left and left-liberals still have a long way to go, before they can be anything more than short term issue based working partners --- real solidarity, unfortunately, excepting with some few, is not even on the horizon at this time...
“We know each other, and we have developed, I think, a very close friendship — something like a reunion of one family,” the Dalai Lama said, speaking of Bush.” (10/16/2007)
After reading the above, I put together a family album for the Lama... so he (and we) can meet his extended family (related to him through Bush). Maybe the Lama will have a big 'ol family reunion party one day.
Click on the play button to view the album (includes family music). Windows users having trouble: download the latest version of Quicktime, then download this file - and play in Quicktime.
In case you were wondering who made the clothes you may be wearing these days...
It is interesting to note that while so-called Progressive-Modernist-Moderates (i.e. the allies of Imperialism and Neo-Colonialism) love to point fingers at Muslims about "women's rights." Rarely, if ever, do they address the corporate control of women in the "third world."
The reason they don't address these issues is because, as part of the elite of Muslim majority countries, they benefit from the economic, and sexual exploitation (brothels and prostitution) of Muslim women. If they were raise the issues of such exploitation, the finger would point right back at 'em - after all it is these liberals who have made deals with major American and European corporations to open up abusive factories.
Next time you hear about anyone wanting to make any Muslim majority country into a "moderate modern progressive" nation - remember this video - this is what they mean:
(Of-course similar conditions exist in Mexico, Central and South America - and elsewhere).
Along with spending time venting on this blog, I also like to go out on hikes, spend time in forests and deserts (during the winter season) and take lotsa photographs that I display on my other blog. I find that the emphasis Islam places on the human's relationship with the earth, and the universe is rarely contemplated on these days - other than the usual apologetics about how Islam is an "environmentalist religion" essays that show up on earth day etc.
I think the annual controversy about how, where, when to sight (or not) the Hilal is a mixed blessing in that it has at least caused some Muslims to take a closer look at why there may be an emphasis on actually seeing the Hilal.
Here, I'd like to see if I can clarify some of the different positions on Hilal sighting - and offer some of my own reflections.
There are, as I see it, two major points of views, each further sub-divided, that I will name and define (the names are subject to change, feel free to offer other names).
a. Central Regionalists
b. Multi-Central Regionalists
a. Astronomical Calculated Sightablity Holistics.
b. Actual Hilal Sight Holistics.
i. Shared Night
ii. Shared Horizon
1. Regionalists base their Hilal sighting on defined regions that are, in our present day, almost always political state boundaries.
a. Central Regionalists look, for the most part, to "Saudi" Arabia - and so, if that state (i.e. the so-called "royal family") declares Eid - then they will do Eid on that day, regardless of any other considerations.
b. Multi-Central Regionalists may not look towards "Saudi" Arabia as a centre, but consider their own region as one centre of many. For example, Zaytuna defines the "North America" region as the political entities of United States and Canada. So, if the Hilal is seen in any part of North America, then Zaytuna will consider that as Eid for the entire North America. However, they will not accept any sighting outside of their defined region of North America as having any relevance to US and Canada.
I consider both of the above to have very limited value in linking and developing ties with Muslims that transcend narrow temporal political boundaries, and even more limited towards looking at our Earth as a unified whole - especially with reference to contemplating the beautiful relationship between the moon and the earth.
The Multi-Central Regionalists have attempted to correct some the shortcomings of Central Regionalists, but still end up placing themselves into an artificial box.
For example, lets look at the sightablity map for the hilal on October 12th, 2007:
The Hilal could easily be seen in all of South America, Central America, and in Mexico. However, in "North America" it could only be seen easily in a very narrow strip of the southern most part of the political entity of the United States. But only a bare 25-75 miles south of San Diego, in Baja California, Mexico, the Hilal could be easily seen. However, because Mexico does not fit in with the definition of "North America" - Multi-Central Regionalists would not accept that sighting as relevant for the political entities of US and Canada. This is an artificial political line drawing on the map, and is not at all how the light of the sun, the reflection of the moon, and the earth relate to each other.
2. Holistics look at the Earth as a whole, and base their sighting on what is called a "shared night" or "shared horizons". For example, regarding "shared night" if the Hilal is seen in one part of the Earth (say, Caracas) - and if at the time of sighting, it is also night (after sunset, before imsak) in another part (say New York City) - then that sighting in Caracas is considered valid and relevant also for New York City. This is based on the fatwas of the late Ayatullah Khoei, and a modified version by Ayatullah Fadhlullah (I don't have the exact wordings of the fatwa on hand - but will link, once I find them).
The Shared Horizon fatwa of Ayatullah Sistani and Ayatullah Khamenei is based on a "shared longitude."
Q 834: Is the sameness of horizon considered to be a condition in regards to observing the crescent? A: It is enough for the crescent to be sighted in the areas of the same horizon, in nearby areas, or in the areas to the east.
Q 835: What is meant by sameness of horizon? A: When certain areas are located on the same longitude, they are said to share the same horizon.
a. Astronomical Sightablity Holistics require only a calculated probability of sightablity, this is based on Ayatullah Fadhlullah's fatwa.
b. Actual Sight Holistics require the actual sighting of the Hilal by human eyes, and (for the most part) unaided by optics. Ayatullah Khamenei allows for use of binoculars and telescopes.
Lets take a look at how both these rulings works, the map below is for October 12th, about 6:30 PM, US Pacific Daylight Time.
From Map #1 above, we know that the Hilal was to be easily sighted in Baja California, Mexico - at about the time of probable sighting - almost the entire US and Canada is in night, and the Hilal sighting would be considered valid for these regions. Now, we also know from Map #1 that the Hilal can also be easily sighted in Australia, and as the time of hilal sighting approaches parts of Australia, it will still be dark in those part of North America that were still in daylight at the time of Hilal sighting in Baja California.
Again looking at Map#1, based on Ayatullah Sistani's Shared Horizon, the crescent can be seen in southern parts of the earth, but not in the Northern parts on October 12th. Thus, the Hilal can be seen in all of Mexico, Central and South America, and, with some difficulty, in most of the US, but not in Canada. Thus Eid day would be October 13th for the US, and October 14th for Canada. Click here, for a good explanation of the Shared Horizons fatwa.
Both the Holistic methods allows for looking at the earth as a whole, and takes into contemplation the nature of how light, darkness, the moon, and the sun all interact with each other. And allows for a relationship with this beautiful choreograph created by Allah, a Name of Whom is Al-Musawwir. Furthermore, it does not impose restrictions based on temporal artificial political boundaries that are often based, in our present day, on colonialism, imperialism, and wars.
There is no reason why Muslims in North America cannot, in this day and age, effectively communicate with our sisters and brothers in Mexico, Central and South America and accept their sighting just as relevant and valid as from a Muslim in Texas. Such communication, will, inshallah, help us to solidify our communities across politically imposed boundaries, so, we may also transcend narrow nationalisms and tribalims.
"Al-Nas! Worship your Sustainer, who has created you and those who lived before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him who has made the earth a resting-place for you and the sky a canopy, and has sent down water from the sky and thereby brought forth fruits for your sustenance: do not, then, claim that there is any power that could rival God,  when you know . (Qur'an 2:21-2:22)
"Then Hu decorated them with stars and the light of meteors and hung in it the shining sun and effulgent moon under the revolving sky, moving ceiling and rotating firmament." (Imam Ali, Nahjul-Balaga, sermon #1)
In modern Australia, sectarianism rarely goes beyond the occasional provocative opinion piece in the newspaper or a comment from a bigoted politician. In India, the world's largest democracy, ancient religious hatreds are frequently used as modern political tools to deadly effect.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Indian independence, as well as the birth of the modern and nominally Muslim state of Pakistan. The founders of both states envisaged two modern secular states living side by side and maintaining good relations based on their shared cultural heritage.
Yet in the weeks and months surrounding Partition, more than a million people were killed in religious riots in northern India's Punjab and Bengal wings. In the train stations of Lahore and Amritsar, on either side of India's boundary with what was then West Pakistan, it wasn't unknown for trains to silently stop at the platform, their carriages transformed into communal coffins.
How can modern secularism overcome such ancient hatred? After all, we in the West regard secularism as keeping religion away from politics wherever possible, as if religion can only play a destructive, not cohesive, role when allowed to dominate the public sphere.
David Davidar's latest work, The Solitude of Emperors, is a reminder that secularism can take other forms. The novel's narrator is Vijay, a young south Indian man who escapes from a suffocating rural home to work as a journalist in Mumbai. His employer is Rustom Sorabjee, a wealthy member of the ancient Parsi community, descendants of the Zoroastrians of Iran who fled the armies of the Muslim caliph Omar in the 7th century.
Sorabjee is publisher and editor of The Indian Secularist, a magazine with a small but elite readership of Indians opposed to the growing influence of Hindutva (Hindu chauvinism). The novel is set about the time of the destruction of the ancient Babri Masjid, a mosque built by the Mughals in the north Indian town of Ayodhya and regarded by Hindus as the birthplace of Rama. The destruction on December 6, 1992, led to the rise of far Right Hindu chauvinism and subsequently the election of what many Indian minorities feared would be a neo-fascist Bharatiya Janata Party government.
The sectarian riots reach Mumbai, and Vijay witnesses a mob of crazed fanatics hacking at the remains of Muslim civilians they had just murdered. The mob demands Vijay prove he isn't Muslim, even insisting he shows he isn't circumcised. One of the mob notices that Vijay wears the sacred threads establishing his Brahmin Hindu heritage, but bashes him with a metal bar for good measure. The incident leaves him suffering post-traumatic stress. His employer suggests Vijay take time off in a small village in the Nilgiri mountains in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Sorabjee gives his employee two tasks. First, Vijay is to report on the struggle to protect the Tower of God, a Christian shrine at the top of a mountain that, like so many religious shrines in India, is revered by followers of all faiths. Hindutva activists believe the shrine is built on the ruins of an ancient Hindu temple and are agitating to destroy it.
Vijay's reporting is to occur within the context of his second task: reviewing Sorabjee's book "The Solitude of Emperors: Why Ashoka, Akbar and Gandhi Matter to Us Today", excerpts of which appear in the novel. Though Sorabjee's work is a defence of secularism, Western readers will find its approach somewhat novel. Far from insisting that religion (and religious people) remain aloof from government, Sorabjee champions the idea that religious citizens of modern India change their attitude towards their own faith and the faiths of their fellow Indians.
This book within the book attempts to define secularism as a messianic force that will eventually lead to the creation of an India that maintains its religiosity without compromising its pluralism.
The promised secular messiah would be a leader who combined the best qualities of Ashoka (the warrior king who left war behind to spread the message of Buddha), Akbar (the Mughal Muslim king who developed a hybrid religion containing elements of all faiths) and Gandhi (who developed the Hindu doctrine of Ahimsa into a modern form of non-violent activism). Sorabjee sees the common thread of these three Indian leaders as their willingness to occasionally embrace solitude, to remove themselves from the hysteria of their communities and rise above commonly held prejudices.
So much of our modern politics is driven by advice from spin doctors encouraging their clients to make statements and develop policy based on little more than popularly held prejudice.
Davidar's novel provides a believable Indian scenario of where such politics might lead in the long term. It also opens our eyes to uglier sides of Indian cultures that may surprise Western readers enamoured of all things Indian, but which Indians take for granted.
First published in The Weekend Australian on 13-14 October 2007.
The Criminal Offence of “Incitement to Religious Hatred” in England and Wales came into force on 1st October 2007 in the form of the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. In my opinion, making incitement to religious hatred a criminal offence was a mistake. I supported proposals to restrict the scope of the offence to those who exploit anti-Muslim feeling as a fig leaf for traditional forms of racism. This is not because I disagree with the new law in principle - rather, I fear its scope may be so broad in practice that it will never become encultured. That would be counterproductive.
The debate over incitement has been wide ranging and has included discussions pertaining to how Muslim ought to respond to remarks and images which might be deemed 'offensive', illegal or otherwise. The coming into force of this act, along with recent events on the social networking site Facebook, have re-opened this debate, but sadly in the form of the most risible piece of nonsense on Guardian CIF. The central thesis of the piece, written by Sunny Hundal, was actually a badly framed argument bought to its insane conclusion. Briefly, it was at some point suggested Islam should not be subject to offensive comment because it is part of people's "primary identity." In fact, this is half an argument lifted out of context - probably not by the author, but nonetheless perpetuated by him. The original argument is that religion is a core identity in the same way as race and gender, and hence statements intended to invoke anti-Muslim sentiment are no different to racism/sexism.
Some people have disagreed with this argument - not very convincingly, in my view. However, Sunny's logic was to argue that fervent nationalism was no less a "primary identity" than religion. However, the conclusion of such equivalence is that anti-nationalist statements are designated as being on par with racist and sexist statements. I think most people would agree that is palpable nonsense.
Perhaps misunderstandings arise because people who are not religious do not understand the wholeheartedness of faith. However, I believe it is implicit within Islam to use reason to contest those who attack Islam. At the same, because Muslims are a minority in the UK subject to discrimination, there should be legal protection to ensure Muslims and non-Muslims have equal opportunities to participate and prosper within society. Hence, I do not support those Muslims who want to ban those on Facebook who have written offending comments about Islam, if they are not in breach of the law.
What saddens me most about Sunny's article is that - yet again - some British Muslims are ticking a box in support of a view they broadly support - that Muslims should be a little more thick skinned and reasoning in their defence of their faith, but without stopping to think carefully about what is actually being said. Not only was the piece a mish mash of bad reasoning, but it denigrated some Muslims as illogical, emotionalist and infantile in a way strongly reminiscent of Orientalist and colonial discourses.
OK, I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking to yourselves: “Here we go! Yet another Muslim apologist reminding us kaffirs (Arabic for persons of incorrect religion and Afrikaans for persons of incorrect colour) about how peaceful and sensitive and New-Agey he and his mob are.”
Well stop complaining. For every Muslim apologist, there are 500 nasty people reminding us that radical imams are colluding with burqini-clad lifeguards, Somali security guards and Pakistani taxi drivers in a huge terrorist conspiracy.
These days, it’s become fashionable to pretend that 1.2 billion Muslims across the world have joined hands to destroy Western civilisation. I’ve got a name for this conspiratorial state of mind – The Protocols of the Learned Mullahs of Tehran. Or should that be Kabul? Or Lakemba? Or Coburg? Take your pick.
The sad thing is we hear this stuff so much that we actually start believing it. Addressing a largely geriatric Sydney audience in August 2006, neo-Conservative theatre critic Mark Steyn posed this question to yours truly:
When you heard these news stories … some terrorist crackdown or whatever, in your heart, were you genuinely surprised that it turned out to be … alleged plotters acting in the name of Islam? Acing in the name of Allah? Acting in the name of Mohammed?
Writing on his blog in July, Peter Faris QC makes these original observations:
All these terrorists and supporters live in the Austsralian (sic.) Muslim community. It is difficult if not impossible to identify in advance exactly who are terrorists and supporters. Accordingly, as specific identification is impossible, all Australian Muslims must be treated with suspicion … there (sic.) Civil Rights will inevitably be curtailed (in various ways). These limitations are not the fault of the “racist”, mainstream Australians. It is the fault of Muslims themselves by permitting terrorists to live unidentified amongst them.
Yep, it’s all our fault. After all, we’re permanently logged into the al-Qaeda intranet, receiving immediate updates from Caliph Usama (without translations from The Chaser) on the next attack.
Jokes aside, let’s face facts. Can Muslims really get themselves organised to the extent that they know in advance which terrorist is pulling off which attach and where?
The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: “The spiritual stench of a lie is enough to drive the angels away”. Or something like that. In this sacred fasting month of Ramadan, I think it’s only proper I refrain from telling you the usual lies of self-serving community “leaders” about how united and organised Muslims are.
Without pretending to speak from experience, I must say that pulling off a terrorist act requires meticulous planning and execution. The September 11 attacks were timed to perfection. It was all coordinated, the hijackers were trained, and the level of damage was almost predetermined. I’m not for one moment suggesting that the people responsible for 9/11 were not from Muslim countries or backgrounds. But I seriously find it really hard to believe that Aussie imams and Muslim organisational leaders could pull off a stunt like that.
How do I know this? Because these guys (and no, I'm not being sexist) couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery.
Islamic religious festivals are determined by the Islamic lunar calendar. In terms of our secular solar calendar, Ramadan and other Islamic months begin and end on different days each year.
In the Prophet Muhammad’s time some 14 centuries ago, people used to sight the new moon with their naked eye. The Prophet gave instructions about how to sight the new moon, and how to calculate prayer times during the day using the length of a stick's shadow.
Today, we don't need sticks and shadows. Instead, we have watches and prayer timetables to determine when to face Mecca. But when it comes to determining when the months begin and end, each year sees a fresh lunar-tic controversy. And even the most radical imams are too busy issuing fatwas on this.
Australian mosques are largely organised along ethnic lines. The ethnic group with the largest number of mosques and imams in Australia is the Turkish community. Turkish imams, astronomers and mathematicians have calculated lunar months well in advance. Each year, Turkish Muslims in Australia and across the world know exactly when Ramadan begins and ends.
Other ex-Ottoman Muslim groups (Bosnians, Cypriots and Albanians) tend to follow the Turks. Lebanese and other Arabs also fall into line, as do Indonesians, Malaysians and Central Asians.
But a sizeable number of imams and ethnic groups (like the Pakistanis, South Africans and Indo-Fijians) insist that pre-determined dates are invalid. They insist on sighting the moon with their naked eye. This inevitably means they start fasting a day later and have their Eid feast marking Ramadan’s end 1 or 2 days after everyone else.
Those who follow the naked-eye method claim their way is closer to the way of the Prophet Muhammad. The rest say insisting on actual sightings is as silly as throwing out watches and prayer timetables and calculating stick shadows. Or like throwing out the cars and investing in some camels.
(Sheik Hilaly, who belongs to the latter group, once observed: “Man has landed on the moon and yet some imams are still too busy trying to see it with the naked eye!”)
Who is correct? Which method is right?
Well, for the average Muslim punter, it really doesn't matter. They just wish all the imams and mosques could agree. Things become especially embarrassing in the workplace.
Imagine employing 3 Muslims. Each wants to take a day off for Eid so they can spend time with their family. But each has Eid on separate days. What would you do? Who would you believe?
This scenario will probably be repeated in hundreds of workplaces across the country. And Muslim religious leaders still can’t get their act together and sort it out.
With Muslims too busy mooning each other over whether to sight with naked eyes, it’s highly unlikely they’d get their collective act together to pull off a terrorist attack. Those who believe otherwise should be relegated to the lunatic (or should that be lunar-tic?) fringe.
(Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of AltMuslim.com. A version of this article was first published on NewMatilda.com on 9 November 2005.)
Organisers say research shows many Britons associate Islam with terrorism. The group insists that the religion demands that its followers live in peace with their neighbours within non-Muslim societies .
The use of the verb "insist" is interesting - it would seem to imply the BBC itself is not entirely convinced, and what with its seemingly endless Panoramo programmes on Muslim extremism - one is broadcast on BBC 2 at 8:30pm this evening - no one should be too suprised at that. The adjunct "within non-Muslim societies" is odd - are we to assume that within Muslim socieities, Muslims and non-Muslims squabble?
Fair to the BBC, there is evidently goodwill towards Muslims in some quarters, not least on the Religions and Ethics section of its website. In addition, following tonight's Panorama on HT, there is a real treat - an hour long programme about the Shariah produced by a Muslim film maker. Hence, it's about the 'real' Shariah, not the Islamophobic fantasy of endless beheadings and amputations that somehow ignores the lethal injectionings and electrocutions of black people in the USA. Back to Islam in Peace. The Press release(pdf) includes the following statement:
The Campaign aims to correct misconceptions about British Muslims and their faith and help create a more tolerant and inclusive society. In July this year, full-page advertisements were placed under the banner 'Muslims United' in leading tabloid and broadsheet papers clearly stating the Muslim community's unequivocal condemnation of all acts of terrorism. The advertising campaign on the tube, trains, stations and airports will emphasise the diversity and positive contribution of British Muslims and the integral role they play in everyday life.
Ifhat Shaheen-Smith , one of the campaign organisers said, "in the current atmosphere of suspicion and fear about Islam and British Muslims, truth is often confused with fabrications and stereotypes. Prejudice has become entrenched and sensationalistic media reporting is creating a climate of paranoia. There is a desperate need for openness, mutual understanding and a mature debate."
Through images of Muslims in various fields and professions, from medicine to the police service and from art to football, the adverts seek to emphasise that British Muslims are proud of their identity whilst playing their full role in making Britain a more united and prosperous society.
This advertising campaign will need to be a sustained one if it is counter the inevitable reactionary nonsense from the usual suspects. As the official launch is taking place in London today, there is not much in the news as yet. The website itself is worth a look, although the "who are we?" slick video with its close up faces, weepy background music and cute little kids is a little too sick-bags-at-the-ready for my taste.
I certainly welcome the campaign and the planned nationwide tour. However, we need much more than a single, loud, alternative message - we need loud, alternative messages - i.e. more grass roots online responses. In the UK, there would seem to be a particular paucity of individual bloggers committed to tackling Islamophobia in the media, to the extent I can count them on one hand- Indigo Jo Blogs, Rolled-up Trousers, Yahya Birt and of course the wonderful Islamophobia Watch. Okay, and me.
Part of the problem, I suspect, is the attitude reflected in some of the negative comments I've heard expressed by Muslim clevers about grassroot groups being "arrogant and ignorant" etc - however, you rarely hear of such people volunteering to advice such groups. If campaigns like this are going to work, they need to empower ordinary people to generate their own responses. Let's stop relying so much on leaders and wheelers and dealers and do something ourselves. Beginning today.
Ps. If you're blogging on Muslims in the UK media and are not mentioned here, then drop me a comment or email me via my website.