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Archive for August 2011

Selective narratives and short-term memories

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Smoothing things over: Israeli President Shimon Peres hosts a Ramadan dinner Copyright @GPO

Last week, the entire world was engrossed in what was happening in Libya. Eyes were glued to the television screen as we watched the rebels march into Tripoli, cheered on by the international community in the ‘fight for democracy’.

While everyone was applauding Sky’s Alex Crawford for her ‘bravery and tenacity’ in reporting live from the back of a rebel pickup truck, 1200 miles away, however, there was no pause in the rockets in Gaza despite a cease-fire. Fighting resumed between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gaza. This was barely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The conflict came about after two terror attacks on buses in southern Israel last Thursday killed fourteen people and wounded 31. The driver of the first bus claimed that the shooters were dressed in Egyptian military uniform. In addition Israeli forces shot five gunmen while Egyptian border police killed two more.  It appears that an Israeli military helicopter attempted to give chase and crossed into Egypt territory where it mistakenly attacked an Egyptian army unit, killing five and wounding several others.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak issued a statement expressing his ‘regret’ at the deaths, but the Egyptians were having none of it, stating that the apology was not good enough. And so begins another diplomatic crisis calling in the ‘big guns’, i.e. the Unites States. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman landed in Cairo late Sunday in an attempt to defuse the tensions.

Israeli President Shimon Peres further tried to bring about peace between the two countries by hosting a Ramadan dinner in Jerusalem. Perhaps Peres served truly astounding latkes and falafels that evening, for soon afterwards the countries decided to work together to investigate just what actually happened last week.

Israel blamed Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees for the attack and retaliated with Israeli missiles on 20th August, killing15 Palestinians, with 55 injured, including 12 women, 15 children, three elderly and one ambulance worker.

Egyptian security forces are reportedly searching the border region for the people connected to last Thursday’s terrorist attacks. According to a report in Egypt’s al-Shorouk newspaper, Egyptian forces are also mapping the tunnels underneath the Gaza border and intend to destroy them.

Does the blame actually lie with Gaza? Richard Lightbown, of the Palestine Chronicle, said that the Israeli government (unpopular at home) is trying to show that it can act with determination to protect her security, and ‘who better to blame than the residents of Gaza?’ While Hamas supposedly expressed delight over the news of the dead Israelis, they have yet to claim responsibility for the attacks. Both sides repeatedly attacked the other (ceasefire schmeasefire!) but unfortunately for Gaza, they do not have an Iron Dome to repel rockets.

An Arab diplomat told the AFP that Washington is pressing the Palestinians to abandon their plans to bid from UN membership next month. The general feeling among Palestinians is that this is the first ‘Israeli nail in the coffin’ for a state recognition, as they have ‘shot themselves in the foot’ and scuppered their chances once again.

When the media can be bothered to pay attention, themiddle-eastern narrative is quite interesting and ever changing. We want them to have democracy and freedom but we don’t think they can handle it. And what about those Islamists, it’s just a matter of time before they take over and fill the power vacuum, right? When Egyptians gathered on the streets in their thousands, we cheered them on but now Mubarak has been ousted the media is once again obsessed with potential Islamic extremists vying for power. The same is happening with Libya and now Palestine. Our memories have become shorter and our focus is more selective

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Written by Iram Ramzan

August 26, 2011 at 2:15 pm

The Ramadan diaries #3

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Originally published on Mancunian Matters

 

After not fasting for a few days, it did take some getting used to again. At least I wasn’t being interrogated by MM’s editor for not fasting (“aren’t you supposed to be fasting, why aren’t you fasting?”)

I found myself falling asleep on my keyboard several times, much to the bemusement of my colleagues, some of whom have been asking me since day three (seriously) of Ramadan ‘isn’t it over yet?’ According to MM’s Liam Barnes I was like a computer on standby mode. Often described as a somewhat feisty person, Ramadan has made me completely mellow, unable to think of anything too complicated. I’m nicer this way, so I’m told.

I went out shopping with some relatives for new Eid clothes. As a woman I do not usually turn down the opportunity to shop till I drop but this time I feared the favourite saying would soon become reality – shopping on an empty stomach is not fun and causes bouts of dizziness.

It is even more unpleasant when one of the group members barges into your changing rooms while you’re trying on clothes (made for a stick insect) and promptly wolfs down a Wispa bar far from prying fasting eyes. I admit readers, I was tempted to elbow her in the face and snatch that bar of chocolate. But with my head stuck in a sleeve I did not have the upper, er, hand.

The last 10 days of Ramadan are more special and some nights hold more blessings than others. One such night is Laylatul Qadr (The Night of Power), described as ‘better than a thousand nights’ in the Qur’an (Al‐Qadr v. 1‐5).

It was the night in which the Qur’an was revealed, hence its significance. The exact date is not known though most scholars have said it is most likely to be the 27th night. As a result everyone becomes extremely devout and pious, praying all night and reading as much of the Qur’an as possible.

Despite Ramadan almost drawing to a close I’m still surrounded by many people, who all hover around me in a circle, and ask me so many questions. I could get used to the attention… Here are some of my favourites:

If you’re on a night shift do you then have to fast all night but then eat during the day? Er. No. It depends on the sun. When the sun comes up you stop eating. When the sun is down you start.  In fact, let’s turn it into a song: # when the sun comes up you begin your fast, when the sun goes down you end your fast. Fa la la la la la laaaa#

Wow 30 days? Whoever invented Ramadan couldn’t they have shortened it? Who knows perhaps God didn’t have enough time to go back to the drawing board.

I thought Ramadan only lasted a week. Ah if only. See previous question.

Does your 4-year-old brother have to fast? I know some people out there think Ramadan is a ‘cruel month’ but come on. ‘Cruelty’ is for healthy adults only. While young children are encouraged to learn about fasting, it is only obligatory for anyone beyond adolescence.

Muslims who have medical conditions that prevent or make fasting difficult (feeling really, really hungry does not count), those who are going through a pregnancy or menstruation and the elderly do not have to fast. In some circumstances, individuals who cannot fast for any number of reasons may make up the fast at a later date. I might cheat and make up my fasts in the winter…

Speaking of stuffing one’s face, I found out that Barack Obama hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House. Dinner and politics, hello where’s my invite? Even Shimon Peres, President of Israel, has jumped on the bandwagon.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, gave a warm Ramadan greeting to Muslims at the beginning of the month, which went down like a lead balloon with some. I must admit though, I found him almost alluring at that point.

Perhaps it was the very guttural Hebrew in which the speech was delivered or maybe it’s the whole ‘bad boy’ thing (I’m Muslim, he’s Jewish, it could never work). The pro-Palestinian activists were not so delighted with this confession…

Fox or foe: Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu

Ironically, in a month where we are told to turn off the televisions and radios (It’s double haram-unlawful-during Ramadan. Go figure.), hundreds of special religious shows and channels pop up.

The adverts are the worst. Exactly after sunset appeals for charities and aid come up, one after the other, after the other, ensuring your meal goes down with a side helping of guilt.

Ramadan usually for me means The Let’s Talk Show on Radio Ramadan 87.7fm which is hosted by the editor of The Revival magazine at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. The show is sometimes full of conspiracy nutters (“It’s all America’s fault!” )  but otherwise it’s a good show on the whole.

This month has gone by so quickly and it’s astonishing when you realise there’s less than a week left.  Don’t get me wrong I love my food but when I wasn’t fasting for a few days I felt guilty (even though I had genuine reasons) and I missed that shared hunger and purpose.

I like how there’s a unity among Muslims during this time of the year. We’re all fasting, we’re all hungry and tired and fantasising about food but after Eid we’ll go back to our separate ways and I’ll miss that when it’s all over.

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 24, 2011 at 8:00 am

Libya’s NTC cabinet dismissal: out with the old and in with the, well, old

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Originally published on The Pryer: 16/08/2011

 

Just a few weeks ago, British Foreign Secretary William Hague declared the Libyan National Transitional Council as the ‘sole’ legitimate representatives of the Libyan people, a statement consolidated with expulsion of the Libyan diplomats in London and replaced with those that would represent the NTC. Shortly after this recognition, army commander General Abdel-Fatah Younes was killed in mysterious circumstances.

Last week, however, MustafaAbdel Jalil, chairman of the NTC, sacked the 14-strong executive committee over Younes’ assassination, which included several top ministers, including those responsible for finance, defence and information.

Jalil said in an interview with Aljazeera that the move was made because the cabinet had made “administrative mistakes” in investigating the assassination of General Younes, whose burned, bullet-riddled body was found on 28 July.

 

Mustafa Abdel Jalil: Libyan NTC Head sacks his entire cabinet. Copyright @Bloomberg.com

This is certainly embarrassing for the western countries that have recognised the NTC as the representativesof the Libyans, who are showing visible signs of divisions in their midst. U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Wednesday: “This is an opportunity for renewal, not only in political terms, but in terms of the confidence that the Libyan people are going to have to have in NTC leadership.”

Don’t get too excited folks. We may be praising the NTC for attempting to remove factions and ‘those responsible’ and rejoicing at ‘democracy’ in action but let us read on. Shamsiddin Abdulmolah, the council’s media director, said: “Some of the people who served on the board can definitely be included in the new Cabinet.” So basically potential criminals (if they killed or helped to kill Younes then yes they are criminals) will remain in the cabinet? If I was in Benghazi right now I would not be feeling so confident.

It is evident that this is just a cabinet reshuffle. A reshuffle is just that: a reshuffle. It’s out with the old and in with the, well, old. This reshuffling ofthe cabinet was supposedly a move, according to rebel leaders, to appease Younes’ Obeidi tribe who are angry and outraged at his death. Younes was not popular among certain divisions in the opposition forces. This looks like a tribal conflict and it is incorrect to assume that all the rebels are united.

And who exactly represents the Libyan people when neither the cabinet nor the opposition is united? The rebels hope that, if they reach Tripoli, the population will join them in rising up against Gaddafi. This is clearly going against the will of the Libyan people. Commentators in the west, such as Deborah Haynes, and even in eastern Libya, can say however much they want about the propaganda being fed to government troops and its citizens, but the fact is, whether we like it or not, Gaddafi is still popular in many parts of the country, which explains why he is still in power. How then is thisdemocratic?

Is there a strategy for what will happen if the rebels do manageto overthrow Gaddafi? Perhaps not. On a final note, I leave you with the wise words of Independent reporter Patrick Cockburn:

 

As with Afghanistanin 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the US and Britain found it was one thing tooverthrow the Taliban or Saddam Hussein and quite another to replace them. Treating dubious local allies as the legitimate government has a propaganda value, but it is unwise to pretend that the local partner carries real authority.With this experience under its belt, it required real fecklessness for Britain to plunge into another conflict on the assumption that this time we were betting on a certain winner. Gaddafi may be overthrown but the struggle for power between internal factions is likely to continue.

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 16, 2011 at 6:54 pm

The Ramadan Diaries #2:

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I’ve not slept well for over a week. As we have to eat at around 2am, I don’t bother going to sleep until 3am. Today I had to wake up at 8am. Ramadan this year has definitely messed up my sleeping patterns.

By day three I had become accustomed to not eating during daylight and was not feeling hungry at all. I’m sure the fasters out there are reading this with beady eyes and silently cursing me.  At one point, I was even craving salad. Yes, you read correct, salad! Those who know me, and my addiction to all things with sugar, spice and everything nice, must think I’m hallucinating, or off my rocker. This is called Ramadanitis: all things which can be consumed are suddenly desirable to all.

I have a confession though – I haven’t been fasting for a few days. As a woman I have many reasons at my disposal: menstruation, pregnancy and nursing, as well as genuine illness. Isn’t it great to be a woman sometimes?  It’s the only time of year when men sometimes almost wish they could get periods, though they’d never dare say this out loud – except for this one honest man on Twitter. My 21-year-old brother, who should be aware of the facts of life by now, caught me eating last year when I was unable to fast and insisted it’s because I’m ‘a hungry fat cow’. Loyal readers, I assure you that while I may be rotund in certain areas, I’m certainly not fat.

They say, however, that more food is consumed during Ramadan than in any other month. Sadly, this is true, as I witnessed at a friend’s house last week. My wish to be invited to an iftar dinner was granted and off I headed. My brother almost leapt onto the table after seeing a dish full of chicken wraps as though he had never seen this delicacy before. I, on the other hand, was the model of restraint and humility, only nibbling away at the fruit salad and biryani, prompting everyone to ask: “Are you on a diet Iram?”

However, I pigged out at Nawaab restaurant (in Levenshulme) as they have a buffet system. Honestly, the amount of food laid on the table would have made the likes of Caligula proud. Asian people are notoriously bad at queuing up so imagine my surprise when I found myself in an orderly line along with over 100 other people. A few people grumbled (“Come on man, how long are they taking”- hello they’ve been fasting since 2am!) while most of us patiently waited, occasionally bumping into the person in front of us. A few times, I found myself in an awkward situation when I accidentally brushed up against a man’s backside in front of me. He didn’t even notice. That or he was secretly enjoying it… *shudder*.

Buffet: This is not Nawaabs-unfortunately!

 

Their hummus was awful. I’m sorry, Nawaab restaurant, but I was a very disappointed hummus-sexual last night.

Apart from hungry mobs in restaurants, Ramadan sees the emergence of even the ‘bad boys’ being good, changing their avatars (probably of their bare torsos for the gals and dat) to something quite ‘Islamic’, e.g. crescent moons and Arabic calligraphy, and tweeting philosophical thoughts (Qur’an quotes) which they would never re-tweet at any other time of the year. What is more annoying are what I call the ‘seasonal hijabis’ – the girls that decide it’s ‘right’ to weart he headscarf during Ramadan but take it off once it’s Eid.  What’s the point? I don’t care if someone wears it or not if I’m honest (I don’t wear it personally) but why suddenly wear one for a month and then take a picture of yourself to upload for yourFacebook/Twitter profile to show everyone just how ‘good’ you are? It’s like how some men say to naive women: “I’m a nice guy”. If you’re so nice you don’t need to keep going on about it.

I always say if you’re going to be good, do little but often, rather than one big spurt ofgoodliness. You can’t be a super-Muslim on day one of Ramadan (SuperMuslim –coming soon near you. Or not) and just your average Mahmood a month later. I haven’t been so wonderful this Ramadan either. I’ve not misbehaved or anything, but I’ve not taken the time to contemplate what this month means to me and about one billion Muslims around the world. It’s still a work in progress.

 

SuperMuslim: Coming soon near you…?

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 10, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Posted in islam

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No holds barred in this no fly zone

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Originally published on The Pryer: 02/08/2011

 

Nato in Brussels announced on Saturday 30 July that it had carried out precision strikes on three Libyan television transmitters to silence “terror broadcasts” by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Nato conducted a precision air strike that disabled three ground-based Libyan state TV satellite transmission dishes in Tripoli. Despite this, state television continues to broadcast.

The strikes, it said, were intended to stop “inflammatory broadcasts” by Col Muammar Gaddafi’s regime. Three journalists were reported to have been killed in the operation.

The Nato spokesman said: “Our intervention was necessary as TV was being used as an integral component of the regime apparatus designed to systematically oppress and threaten civilians and to incite attacks against them.”

Western countries were quick to denounce Gaddafi as a criminal when, in March, many eyewitnesses said that Gaddafi targeted non-combatant journalists, breaching the Geneva Conventions. Yet attacking journalists and the media in Tripoli are ‘fair game’.

I believe certain British newspapers (I won’t name them) ‘incite hatred’ towards immigrants and asylum seekers but I would not call for those journalists to be killed…though I must warn you that without caffeine I will incite hatred against even my own front lawn.

Destroying state television will not remove Gaddafi from power, now will it stop the fighting. TV or no TV, Gaddafi still yields a lot of support-let us not forget he took power and maintained that power long before mass media. Our own media is somewhat to blame – anything reported by Libyan TV is propaganda and lies while rebel sources are taken at their word without the need for verification.

Meanwhile in Syria, government troops fired on protestors, killing at least 40, though the figure has yet to be verified. Foreign Secretary William Hague said: “I am appalled by the reports that the Syrian security forces have stormed Hama with tanks and other heavy weapons this morning killing dozens of people. Such action against civilians who have been protesting peacefully in large numbers in the city for a number of weeks has no justification.”

On the one hand, we are told we’re preventing massacre in Libya while Britain and the rest of the world continue to watch as the Syrian people are violently suppressed by its own government. But not to worry Syrian people, Hague is appalled, so that should be of some comfort…right?

What started off as a mandate to ‘protect civilians’ has now turned into an operation to overthrow Gaddafi. If that is not a move for a regime change then I don’t know what is.

 

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 2, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Posted in middle east

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It’s Ramadan again!

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Day 1 of Ramadan and I already feel like punching someone – actually scrap that, I can’t even muster enough energy to even yawn.

Ramadan (also pronounced Ramzan) is a blessed month but it is also a time when halitosis is prevalent. We’re told the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah than the fragrance of musk. I’ll remember that when I try not to gas my colleagues with my ‘Ramadan breath’.

Every year I always have at least one smart-ass comment from someone saying “Oh your name is Iram RAMZAN, do you fast in the month of Ramzan ha ha ha”. They think it’s witty. It’s not. After 100 times, it is no longer original either.

I have to remind my non Muslim friends that we don’t fast for 30 consecutive days with nothing to eat all (“Oh my God 30 days won’t you die?!”) we’re just limited to eating when it’s dark. And you get used to it after a while. Ish.

I did have a compassionate friend offer to food-rape me earlier therefore it wouldn’t be my fault if I’d consumed food. Is it still food-rape if you’re asking for it?

Although I like not eating for 18 hours (yay!) it annoys me when I hearpeople saying things like “oh I wish Ramadan was every month”. No you don’t! Yes, it’s a blessed month, but I’m ready to be that most people would prefer the blessings without starvation. Besides, Ramadan wouldn’t be so special if it happened every month – just like Christmas, it would lose its novelty.

As the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, Ramadan moves back every 10-11 days each year. Ramadan during Christmas time is better. The days are shorter and you’re surrounded by the Christmas spirit. It is a scientific fact (my thoughts are scientific) that endorphins are usually high around this time – ergo people cannot be miserable when Ramadan occurs at the same time.  Summer Ramadan – not so much, but as a colleague pointed out earlier, at least I’m not a poor immigrant person in the UAE working all day long under the sweltering sun with food or water.

What’s funny is how people suddenly become extremely religious and thoughtful immediately before Ramadan, forwarding text messages which ‘remind you all’ to think of God all day long, full of the usual buzz words such as Alhamdulillah, Insha’Allah and Masha’Allah.

“Oh Subhan’Allah, its Ramadan may glad tidings be upon you”. Bla bla bla – when it’s Eid they’ll get drunk or get stoned and party hard.

But I guess it’s a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t – and everyone likes to point the finger during this time.

I hear many people going on about what they will ‘achieve’ during Ramadan: “This Ramadan I will finish the entire Qur’an” or “This Ramadan I will be sooooo so good and stay at home and not let Shaitan tempt me with Western whores or Debenhams’ sales techniques!” but they should be working on those issues all the time, not just once a year.

For me it’s a time of contemplation, of course, but not radical change – otherwise it’s hypocrisy. And it’s not always possible to just change yourself over night in such a way.

Let’s not forget iftar feasts! I for one am expecting many, many invites, especially from my friend Sanna, whose mum cooks amazing food and ALWAYS has a pot of hummus in the fridge. I’m assuming it is for my benefit alone = ]

Mmmmm…hummus *drools*

Anyway. Enjoy Ramadan everyone and feel free to pass on any tips to get through the long days

Written by Iram Ramzan

August 1, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Posted in islam

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