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Category: Religion

Am I Charlie? The Problem of maintaining a moderate view

Source: Nury Vittachi

[Author]

‘Je suis Charlie’I am Charlie – is the rallying call in Europe and even around the world but … am I Charlie? Can I really identify with the men who died and what they stood for? And if not, then who do I identify with?

We were all, quite understandably, shocked and appalled by the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the subsequent murders which took place in Paris. Every form of media outlet was awash with stories, claims, opinions and debates and the social media busied itself with endless shares of cartoons from around the world. Overnight #JeSuisCharlie became a household term and the largest march of solidarity in French history took to the streets of Paris joined by many of the world’s most important people.

No one, to my knowledge, is condoning the attacks (bar the rants of radical extremists)but the sound of reason is certainly being drowned out by those who would have us believe it is right to point the finger at Muslims and condemn them in every conceivable way. We seem to believe that ‘incitement to hatred’ is a one-way affair – that only Muslims are – and can be – guilty of this. If you’re white, Western and (preferably) atheist then it is quite reasonable and acceptable to mock, jeer and call for an end to whole ways of life for billions of people. My aim in this post is to highlight some of the important articles on the internet which tell a different story in the hope (possibly vain) that this might redress the balance a little.

Although I have, of course, been following the news regarding the murders last week and their effect on whole communities of people, it was after reading a post on Facebook by writer Nury Vittachi that I felt the urge to add my contribution. Nury asserts that though it is right to condemn the barbarity of the attacks this doesn’t mean it is right to condone the actions and beliefs of Charlie Hebdo itself. He points out that it is a lie to believe we have the right to uncensored free speech:

EVERY country implants limits on free speech. Most commonly, defamation is banned… Hate speech is banned in almost every country. Material that can be seen as incitement to violence is banned… The publication of matter which violates “the offense principle” is prohibited to stop people causing a significant degree of offense to society or segments of society.

Does the material published by Charlie Hebdo violate any of these principles, in France, or in YOUR country, or in other countries? The answer is almost definitely yes.”

I shared his post on my Facebook and was immediately engaged in discussion with someone whose views worried me immensely. This man made it clear he considered all religious beliefs – particularly the concept of blasphemy –  ‘ridiculous’ and was offended that people are ‘required to respect these fairy tales’. He spewed out commonly cited extremes of religious thought to back his claims and would not accept my argument that, for many people who have a faith, insulting their God or prophet(s) is the same as abusing a family member. ‘How would you like it,’ I argued, ‘if someone called your wife or daughter a whore and jeered at you publicly day after day, encouraging others to do the same?’ Call my wife a bitch and sooner or later I’m going to snap I said – and his response was chilling: “If you do commit murder because of it, you’ll rightly go to prison. That said, at least your wife is real…if you can’t see the difference, there’s no helping you is there?”

His intolerance towards religion is chilling because I see comments like his repeatedly – incensed and violent in language – all over the internet on every media platform and daily wherever religion is discussed. Atheists have taken such a stronghold in every social and political stream that people seem to be blind to their own intolerance. It’s a given fact that religious people hold silly, made-up beliefs and no argument to refute this is accepted.

A friend, over Christmas, shared a link to a small news item where an English church minister blurted out to children during a service that ‘Santa Claus doesn’t exist’. My friend was angry at her cruelty but then labelled her a hypocrite because of her own beliefs. I was a little shocked that he equated a belief in the words of Jesus (a man rooted in history) with the fairy-tale of the fat man who climbs down several billion chimneys every Christmas Eve. I was stunned that a woman telling the truth (for no adult believes in Santa to my knowledge) was condemned for it on the basis of her own faith alone. It was a silly thing to say – no argument there – and the article made it clear she regretted her words the moment she said them, giving an apology straight away. It was an offhand remark and one that drunken uncles are guilty of every year at family gatherings. It is, after all, nothing but a story to entertain small children with and adults forget this sometimes.

It wasn’t so much the news item as the unquestionable assertion that religion has no basis in reality which concerned me considering nearly 6 billion people on the planet believe in some kind of deity or spiritual realm. I maintain that it is this arrogance which is the root behind the religious motivated acts of terrorism more than any other factor. When your religiously-centred culture is under constant attack – in word and deed – from others who believe you ridiculous and even, at times, inhuman is it any wonder that some of the disenfranchised rise up and take matters into their own, bitter and angry hands?

Corey Oakley writes about these attacks specifically on Muslims:

“For the last decade and a half the United States, backed to varying degrees by the governments of other Western countries, has rained violence and destruction on the Arab and Muslim world with a ferocity that has few parallels in the history of modern warfare.

It was not pencils and pens – let alone ideas – that left Iraq, Gaza and Afghanistan shattered and hundreds of thousands of human beings dead. Not twelve. Hundreds of thousands. All with stories, with lives, with families. Tens of millions who have lost friends, family, homes and watched their country be torn apart.

To the victims of military occupation; to the people in the houses that bore the brunt of “shock and awe” bombing in Iraq; to those whose bodies were disfigured by white phosphorous and depleted uranium; to the parents of children who disappeared into the torture cells of Abu Ghraib; to all of them – what but cruel mockery is the contention that Western “civilisation” fights its wars with the pen and not the sword?”

Oakley goes on to assert that we ignore facts like the persecution of Algerian Muslims by the secular French (the two gunmen last week were Algerian) and other secular attacks. In fact, if we were to score secularist against religious terrorism in Europe the secularists would win hands down. What the press doesn’t like to admit is that just 2% of terrorist attacks in Europe were religiously motivated!

terrorism EU 2

This is a staggering statistic.

Beenish Ahmed asserts that Islamic-based terrorism in America is also all but non-existent:

“Charles Kurzman, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, has called Muslim Americans “a minuscule threat to public safety.”

In his most recent report tracking Islamist militancy in America, he included this startling figure. “The United States suffered approximately 14,000 murders in 2013. Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 37 lives in the United States, out of more than 190,000 murders during this period.””

One could begin to suspect that there is a conspiracy here to ghettoize Muslims in a manner reminiscent of Nazi Germany. That far right groups are gaining political ground in Europe makes this more than mere rhetoric. It wasn’t for no reason at all that Le Pen wasn’t invited to the march in Paris last week.

Elizabeth Plank takes up exactly this theme when she revealed that the Charlie Hebdo attack was not the only terrorist action which took place over the same 24 hour period. Yet why was only the Paris attack given considerable air time? she asks:

“On Tuesday morning, the NAACP offices in Colorado Springs, Colorado, came under attack when someone who is believed be a balding white man in his 40s dropped an explosive device that went off a few feet from the building. And on Wednesday morning, news broke of a horrifying mass shooting at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France that left 12 dead and several wounded.

Both acts were motivated by radical ideology, but only one of them is being covered by the 24-hour news cycle. What gives?”

She goes on to demonstrate how language is used completely differently to report the two attacks. The bomb planted by a white man was ‘isolated act of violence’ but the Paris murders was ‘an act of terrorism’.

It’s not the first time this has happened either, Plank points out:

“…after a white man in Texas purposely crashed his plane into a building known to house IRS staff and left a note describing his plans for mass murder in 2010, a police chief described his acts as “a criminal act by a lone individual” rather than terrorism. When Elliot Rodger espoused his radical anti-woman ideology and killed six people near the University of California, Santa Barbara last year, newspapers like the Santa Barbara Independent , described him as a “lone gunman.” And Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Rodger’s acts were “the work of a madman.” “

It really does seem the media want us to believe separate things about similar acts. But it’s not just the hypocrisy of reporting terrorism (or not) but the blindness towards our own acts which concerns me greatly. As Jared Keller notes concerning the political leaders found ‘linking arms’ on the march of solidarity with 3.7 million others on the streets of Paris, many of them had no right to be there.

“But as Reporters Without Borders points out, their policies at home are far from compatible with the solidarity for free speech on display throughout France.

The organization said Sunday that it was “appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th).””

He quotes the tweets of student Daniel Wickham which list the Human Rights record of 21 of the 40 world leaders who gathered in Paris for the march. The mind boggles at how easily we lay aside what we know about our leaders when we hear the rallying call to solidarity.

Human Rights records brings me back nicely to the issue of religion with which we started. The person who commented on my Facebook post seemed adamant that religion is responsible for so much inhumanity in the world and he’s right – it is. But what media and scholars rarely tell us is that secular states have Human Rights records just as appalling. Over half of the countries listed by the IHRRI at the bottom of the ranking are secular states. China, North Korea, Vietnam and many more have terrible records and we should not forget the awful death toll in communist Russia especially during Stalin’s time where some experts estimate more than 20 million people were killed in the name of secular government.

The final big lie we all seem happy to swallow is the one which implicitly suggests all Muslims are secretly condoning the terrorist actions of Islamic extremists. ‘Why don’t they speak out against it?’ we ask ourselves. ‘If they were really one of us then they would publicly condemn these actions. But they don’t’.

This, I believe, is our worst crime in many ways (speaking as a white westerner). As filmmaker Kamran Pasha reveals, every single major Muslim group in the USA has spoken out condemning terrorist acts. You can find a list of these here but Pasha’s article links to many other sources as evidence to his claims.

His addendum to the article fills me with despair. No sooner had he demonstrated that Muslims are active in their condemnation of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists than he was then accused of it being nothing but empty words:

“In response to this article, the new meme is being promulgated: “Muslims condemn terrorism, but it’s all talk! Sure, Muslims say they condemn terrorism, but there’s no action!”

Where do I begin to respond to this kind of nonsense? There are 1. 5 billion Muslims living their lives in peace, trying to put food on the table for their families. Over six million of them live here in America as patriotic citizens. They work hard, pay their taxes, and have ZERO contact with the criminal underworld where these terrorists breed.

I have never, ever met a terrorist in real life (it is ridiculous that I even have to say this). If I met one, I would turn him in to the authorities, as would every other Muslim I know. Since I don’t have access to this shadowy underworld, I live my life on the surface in broad daylight, working in my community to promote interfaith cooperation, peace and prosperity. It is that grassroots effort that Muslims do to promote good in this world that receives ZERO coverage in the media. I could list every single good thing I and other Muslims have ever done to make the world a better, safer place, but people who hold this attitude don’t care. It will never be enough. If I listed 1 million positive things Muslims are doing in their daily lives today on this planet, they would respond: “Why can’t you name a billion things you’ve done? See, you’re not doing enough!”

So I ask those who are outraged at this supposed Muslim inaction: “What have YOU done to defeat racism in this world?” List every single thing you have ever done to fight the Ku Klux Klan. List it here, right now. Times, dates and hyperlinks please. The response would be that I am crazy — average Americans have nothing to do with the KKK, and don’t need to justify their daily actions in support of righteousness to me or anyone else. But that same common sense response is rejected when a Muslim uses it.”

Which brings me to my final point (which in turn brings us back to my initial questions). Can I say Je suis Charlie? For all I’ve stated above, I do believe in the right to free speech and the right to live our lives in peace without fear of violent action against us. But I also believe that it is human nature that when you throw stones at people sooner or later they will hurl rocks back. The cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hebdo are being hailed as heroes because they knew their lives were at risk and persisted with their work. The latest edition out today has sold in millions rather than its normal circulation of tens of thousands in part as people pay homage to the men. But I can find only one hero among the dead.

While #JeSuisCharlie went viral around the world, so did #JeSuisAhmed and rightly so. That a Muslim police officer died protecting the rights of others to offend him has not been lost on the world. This is the only man to come out of this unblemished in my opinion. He caused no offence, killed no one, committed no act of insult or terrorism – and was executed for his pains.

I don’t know to what extent I can say I am Charlie or I am Ahmed for I am too distantly removed to truly say I stand in their place. I don’t know to what extent I want to, if I’m honest. But I do know that the claim of secularists that ‘at least we don’t kill people for our beliefs‘ is a stupid and dangerous one. For while we choose to ignore one side and build up the other, while we dismiss one opinion and overstate another, while we consider it our right to abuse, ridicule and offend but cry foul when some choose to retaliate – while all this continues whatever flag we choose to wave will have blood on it and we’re all responsible for that.

[source and reference]

[kenthinksaloud]

Celebrations All Around and A Short Break

This week and the last few have been special weeks.  Special for many reasons.  First and foremost, it’s a time in which we have seen many celebrations of many religions, more so, for those religions that are dear to us despite being in another part of the world from where they originated from, and for which our lives and future heavily depend on.

I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate followers of the Sikh religion, in which few weeks ago ‘Joti Jot Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji’ was celebrated as well as ‘Gurgadi Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji’  As for Islam and Muslims around the world, today signalled the day of Hajj, and as a result I’d like to wish all the Muslims a very happy ‘Eid al-Adha’.  Last, but not the least, I’d like to wish a happy ‘Dussehra’ which was celebrated by the Hindu faith on Wednesday.

I can’t recall a time in the past when such important events for each religion were celebrated in close proximity to one another.  Other than harmony and peaceful living, it encourages respect and tolerance for each other, for each different religion and those communities that live with us.

Moving onto more business related news, this time of the year is special to me in other ways.  It’s a time when I take my (towards the) end of the year trip or rather a business venture to Hong Kong and China.  Much like this time last year, I am off to that part of Asia to spend my money in bulk buying massive quantities of the  latest gadgets and accessories, to import into the UK with my regular mission to sell over Christmas.  Something I have been doing for many years now, other than being a mini adventure, it is a very lucrative seasonal business venture, with large return on my investment.  So all those people out there with Apple, Samsung, HTC, Blackberry products, keep an eye out at the retail stores for some interesting eye-catching stuff.

In addition, I’m not only going to China and Hong Kong, I will be visiting two other destinations soon after.  The second being Singapore for linking up and connecting flight to my 3rd destination being Florida, Hunters Creek.  The later two destinations will be pushing me for time but it’s a cheeky last-minute decision which has been made in the last day or two.  I tell you, it’s amazing what fluttering of eyelashes can make me do, with a promise of plenty of apple pies.

So as a result of the above, I will be out of this country from Monday 29th October and my return will be 7 or so days later (if I feel like it) – as I need to get some important badminton practice in too while in Florida.

So my dear readers and followers, I wish you all the best in the coming days, and I hope to catch up with you guys on my return.  I don’t intend to tweet or blog during this time so until then…

Au revoir

Stephen Lawrence Murder Case ‘Not Closed’ Despite Two Convictions

I’d like to make a correction in my yesterday’s post, read here.  I originally said that this case was now over after yesterday’s news of the two convictions, but I’d like to correct this statement by saying “This case is still far from over”.

The reason why I made this correction, follows, two further developments in Stephen Lawrence case which came to my attention, and which at the time of writing yesterday’s post, were not apparent, or at least not to me.

Firstly:  It’s a known fact that, the group that attacked and killed Stephen Lawrence were a total of 5 people.  The names of all five I mentioned in my post yesterday.  Although, two of the five have eventually been brought to justice with one has been given minimum term of 15 years and 2 months and the other has been given 14 years and 3 months, three suspects remain at large and thus far have evaded justice since 1993.  It make sense now to bring the remaining suspects to justice, especially, since they not only have evaded justice but seem to think they were above the law.  A welcomed statement from Britain’s top Policeman Bernard Hogan-Howe said “despite almost two decades, the investigation is not closed” and that “others involved in the killing…should not rest easily in their beds”.

Secondly:  I made this point yesterday in my post, and I feel the need to mention it again, but with a little more detail.  It’s taken just over 18 years to bring about a conviction, and despite the conviction being a better result than any other result in the past 18 years, the satisfaction of this verdict or conviction is muted by why it took so long to get here?  Our society would never have changed, and, continue to change if it wasn’t for the sheer hard work and determination of that Doreen and Neville Lawrence put in over the years, mainly to overcome a lack of interest from an inward-looking, complacent – if not outright crooked – police force.  It’s still not perfect, and in the near future, can never be.  Doreen and Neville Lawrence have forced institutions to have a hard look at their own mind-sets, and more importantly highlighted to the wider population, the exact problems we face.

By digging a little deeper, around the past race related events of Eltham I come to realise Stephen Lawrence was not the only victim of racist murder.  In July 1992, Rohit Duggal aged 15 was murdered only a few hundred yards from where Stephen Lawrence died.  Eventually, years later, the Macpherson report had recorded evidence that Rohit Duggal’s killer(s) was one of the same gang responsible for Stephen’s death.  In Thamesmead, Feburary 1991 Rolan Adams aged 15 was to lose his life to racial motive killing.

Seeing news reports and documentaries one after the other, in the recent days, indicated a common sighting, especially during the scenes of demonstrations followed after the frustration of Lawrence boiled over to demonstrations.  Placards held by people during these demonstrations clearly condemned the presence of British National Party (BNP) in the area.  Somewhere during these events, lurking in the background was the influence of the British National Party.  It was known that only a few miles away, a bookshop covertly operated as a British National Party head office in Upper Wickham Lane, Welling.

Although, from the zenith Eltham appears to be a place which harbours racists, not just the murderers of Steven Lawrence, but it was, after all, the people and community of Eltham who gave up the names of the suspects from which two yesterday were convicted.  It was indeed the local “Institutional Racist” Metropolitan Police, who decided that the death of a black man just wasn’t worth the investigation, and it was never the wider community of Eltham with that view.

Unfortunately, the problem expands throughout the United Kingdom, there are places that remain a soft target for those who seek to stir and divide people.  The role played by the British National Party in the Bradford Riot(s) in July 2001 is a clear reminder of that, they just didn’t stop there, their motives and intention were abruptly apparent by major other riots around neighbouring cities before reaching Bradford.

Almost two decades later, what has changed and how much has changed?  Until Politian’s and others, either locally or nationally, don’t stop whipping up tensions, places like Eltham will remain soft spots for racial divide and may never escape the spectre of racism.

As I write this post, there remain three more suspects, who have, so far evaded justice in Eltham.  Throughout the country, many more such cases similar to this case, and, some have briefly hit the headlines, and especially since post-9/11 and 7/7.  However, circumstance in each individual case determines the course of justice, and in most cases, the lack of determination shown by Lawrence’s parents is missing, or the, institutions simply can’t afford to have another Stephen Lawrence Murder-like case on the horizon.  Racist Murder(s) and Racist Crime are more wide spread, more than we are led to believe.

Nearly two decades one, and with the recent verdicts, have at least for now, brought to attention the problem our society faces.  Communities such as Eltham at least now can begin to heal from the wounds over the last 18 years.  Victims of such racist murder(s) and racist crime(s) are not just the people directly attacked, but those who lived with them, went to school with them and the community who lived around them – the family of Lawrence, Neville and Doreen Lawrence lost their own lives over the last 18 years, as well as their son Stephen Lawrence – nothing can bring back what they have lost.  What happened that night was a great loss but from this loss the sheer determination by Neville and Doreen has helped change and improve our society, and the various institutions that swear to protect us, no matter what race or colour we are.  We owe it to them and those alike who fought to bring justice for all of us.

So, to bring the focus back to my original point that this case still remains open, thus far after 18 years two have been brought to justice but I really can’t help thinking that until the remaining members of the group are not put on trail and convicted, there still will remain uncertainties around this whole cases, with some way to go.  I also feel we have a long way to go yet to understand why this case has taken 18 years to prosecute 2 out of 5 suspects?   Some ownership, responsibility and accountability of the failings at institutional level need to be investigated, and to bring to light those sectors which contributed to the failure(s).  Until these questions are answered, we may well still have to fight for truth and justice.

2011: Year In Review ‘I Fight On’

For the last few days, I have been drafting 2011 Year in Review post in my head.  It’s the first time I’m writing such a post, since my blog is less than 7 months old.  If I am to really explain year 2011 it will indeed be a very long post – but I’m going to attempt to explain it, in as little information as possible and how I feel about it.

All praise is to the lord above us, who, has blessed me with the biggest and most valuable gift one could ever imagine, I made a wish late 2010 and early 2011 that the Lord above granted true for me, and for this I am for ever indebted to the Lord above.

2011 compared to my previous years, has probably been the best year for me, as each year brings its blessings.  I can only pray and hope for more blessings going into the next.

Yes, at times, there have been downs, disappointments, periods when I wanted to be left alone, where I cried and looked to the heavens above for help, guidance and reassurance.

And Yes, there have been ups, delight, periods when I enjoyed the blessings bestowed upon me, when I laughed, smiled and looked to the heavens above to say ‘Thank You’, for guidance and reassurance.

Going through ups and downs in a period of 12 months (or longer) is part of human nature.  We, hope to do our best, be the best we can, help ourselves to help others, and to remember the bad moments in the hope to reflect, learn and become better individuals.

The world in 2011 has changed dramatically, it’s our responsibility to remember what we have, and appreciate everything we have in our lives.  If we count the blessings we have in our lives the moment we wake up till the moment we go back to sleep, we would no doubt lose count.

We seen mother nature show us her force in many parts of the world, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and so on.  We seen human beings at the lowest, when we fought each other for our own desires, greed, and for ill intentions.  2011 was no exception, and we witnessed enough losses that we never seen before.  We as humans, need to reflect on our purpose, reflect on our actions – not towards the end of the year but throughout the year – in the hope that we can lead better lives and live in harmony with each other and with our surroundings.

I’d like to share the following quote from one of my favourite personalities that once ever walked on this earth Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi:

God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one.

That said, I pray for everyone that we embrace 2012 as a year of success, good will and positive energy.  Where we put aside our differences and work together for a better and brighter future.  Yes, we do have many obstacles ahead of us, Yes we need more courage to deal with these obstacles, Yes we may experience ups and downs – but remember the quote above so we may indeed have two wings to fly, not one.

Good Bye 2011 and Welcome 2012

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