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Archive for September 2011

Polygamy and the ‘Columbus Complex’

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There has been much talk in the news lately about polygamy in Britain’s Muslim communities. For the past 15 years, polygamous marriages have been rising. As you are all aware, polygamy (or bigamy as it technically would be) is illegal in the UK.

The issue was discussed on the BBC Asian Network – a caller, Imran (not his real name), said he had two wives. He claimed he did the ‘right thing’ in Islam by marrying the other woman instead of committing adultery. But how did he meet her in the first place? That part he kept vague, saying that he “met her and fell in love”. He said he kept the marriage a secret but he broke the news months later to his first wife who “gradually accepted it”.

For all his rhetoric about doing the “right thing” in Islam, it is outweighed by the fact that he kept it a secret, which is haram, and probably did not even meet his second wife in a halal setting anyway. Men like Imran neglect their Islamic duties, but suddenly remember their “Islamic right” to have more than one wife. A Muslim man can marry upto four wives, as long as he can deal with them justly and provide for them financially. Imran admitted on the show that his second wife is a working mother, which just shows that he’s not really providing for her adequately. He does the school-run for all the children, from both households, but other than that I’m not sure what he does financially.

According to Imran both wives now get along. Now. Meaning they did not previously.The first wife is from Pakistan- she had to get used to the idea as a-her husband had already married, therefore there was nothing she could do, and b-divorce is still a taboo in Asian and Muslims societies so that was not really an option. A woman who returns home after a divorce is not welcomed back with open arms.

Polygamy is something that should only be practiced in extreme circumstances, e.g. after wars when there are fewer men so consequently there won’t be enough men for women to marry. What was Imran’s reason? He himself said that his first wife was “perfect”, that she was a good mother, a good wife, etc. In fact, he even loved her when they first got married (he was aged 17). So what changed, why did he take another wife? “I just wanted a British wife because we’d have similarpersonalities”. Ah yes, that reason which is of course sanctified by theQur’an: “If thy wife does not understand thy jokes take another”.  Pakistani women are reserved in bed (in general), so my guess is that he wanted someone sexually more adventurous.

It’s funny how many men believe they are emulating the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) when it comes to the length of their beards or marrying their cousins, but ignore the fact that the Prophet mainly married women not out of lust or love (Aisha and Khadija being the notable exceptions) but for alliances. The majority of the wives were older, and either divorced or widowed – women that no other man would touch with a bargepole basically.

Muslim men seem to have a ‘Columbus Complex’ -they’re obsessed with virgin territory. Especially the older ones, they suffer a mid-life crisis for various reasons: they’re ageing, balding, and getting more rotund in the middle, and their wife is no longer as bouncy and firm as she used to be (tip: having several children will do that to a woman). So whatdo they do? They get a second wife, usually much younger.

But some Muslims get extremely defensive about polygamy stating that it is not about sex. They comment that polygamy is a more halal way of a man being with another woman without sinning, unlike in the West, that cesspool of rampant sin, that men have affairs and sex outside of marriage with multiple partners all the time, so the Islamic model is a better model – the wife will not be upset that the husband is having an illegitimate relationship with another woman. But doesn’t that boil down to it being a primarily a sexual issue, that men have sexual needs one woman cannot possibly fulfill so instead of taking another woman in a haram way, they can do it in a halal way? Halal or haram, many women would not be happy with their husband even looking at another woman, never mind marrying her. When a woman finds that her husband wants another woman, believe me, she’s not upset over whether it’s a legitimate liaison or not. Anyone who uses this defense clearly knows nothing about women.

Then you get some people who try to justifypolygamy by stating men are ‘more polygamous by nature’. More promiscuous perhaps but polygamous? Men on the whole are also physically stronger so by that ‘logic’ then should men exercise their physical power over women? Beat them or hit them because they are stronger and because they can? Polygamous societies have existed for a vey long time – just look at King Solomon, they say. Kings are not a good example. Solomon was a king; throughout time, kings from all societies have had multiple wives, concubines and mistresses, whereas the ordinary poor Joe cannot afford to have more than one wife.The sex drive theory is nonsense anyway-if a man has two wives or four, they will not be enough for him if he has a very high drive, he will never be satisfied.

The anti-polygamy camp, I’ve noticed, always come out with the usual questions: “Why can’t Muslim women marry more than one man?!” Aside from the fact that would be slightly messy,  I don’t know ANY woman who would put herself through that –just think of the dirty socks. Discussing polyandry was just pointless in the show. (But I found this case very interesting)



Some women on the show who were second wives did come on the show to share their ‘wonderful’ experiences of sharing their husbands. If they all get along and are fine with it, then fair enough, each to their own, but the women did not really explain WHY their husbands had married again. Imran’s first wife apparently accepted the first marriage eventually, which means she must have resisted in the first place. Whether it’s an innate thing or whether they have been conditioned to think this way by society, women often put their happiness and comfort on hold for men because ‘men have needs’. (NB: Women have needs too!) This argument cropped up often, if a woman was terminally ill, and could not perform her ‘wifely duties’ her husband would need someone else to fulfill those needs. How heartless and insensitive are some men that they would think about their loins first and foremost when their wife is dying from cancer? Imagine if it was the other way around – would the husband give his wife blessings to go and find another man to satisfy her needs? I’ll give you a clue: it rhymes with ‘woe’.

But coming back to the UK, why is polygamy on the rise?There is one theory that I can come up with. In most cases, the man will keep his parents happy by marry a girl form ‘back home’. Then he will come back to Britain and will marry a British girl who is ether his girlfriend-haram by theway-or someone he’ll later “fall in love with”. Talk about having your cake and eating it. As the Imam who subsequently came on the BBC show said, Muslim men neglect their Islamic duties most of the time but suddenly remember their ‘right’ to have more than one wife.  In nearly all cases, the men will not marry women who are in need of a husband, e.g. widows and divorcees, but young fresh girls they can frolic around with while their first wife can keep her in-laws happy by being their domestic servant.

I agree that not all cases are like this. But most of the time they are. Forget why people are practicing polygamy for a moment and let us look at the legal situation. Polygamy is illegal. Muslim men flout this law by not registering their second wives, therefore making it impossible to arrest someone for bigamy. Ultimately, you have to respect the law of the land.The Imam on the show was right when he said polygamy only makes sense if you look at the customs of the people around you. In Saudi Arabia it is not unusual for men to have two wives but in many parts of Pakistan, having two wives is strange. Here in Britain it is illegal and quite frankly it is unnecessary.



Written by Iram Ramzan

September 28, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Posted in islam, UK

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Sarkozy’s setback in France: symbolic or seismic?

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Originally published in The Pryer: 27/09/2011


Poor Nicholas Sarkozy. He received a warmer, more enthusiastic reception in Libya than in his own country. On Sunday his conservative government lost its majority in the Senate to the left in a ‘historic defeat’ ahead of a presidential election in April next year.

Jean-Pierre Bel, head of the Socialist group in theSenate, said on French television: “The results of this Senate election represent a real come uppance for the right.” UMP (Sarkozy’s party) Senate leader Gerard Larcher described it as having “seismic” consequences.

So before the lefties order champagne all round, we need to stop for a moment and pause. Is this truly a ‘Sacre Bleu!’ moment, or is it merely a symbolic setback?

One the one hand, the right still retained a majority in the National Assembly. Government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse said: “This is in no way a point of blockage for the government because, as you know, it’s the National Assembly that has the last word.”

For those that do not know much about French politics, the Senate vote is not thebest indicator of voter sentiment – French citizens do not directly vote for the Senate, which is elected by some 72,000 mayors, local and regional councillors and those they appoint, who vote on the basis of regional party lists. The results on Sunday reflect the increasing strength over the years of the left in local councils and elections and divisions within the right.

Further to this, though a leftist majority could complicate government legislation in the pipeline it will not be able to block it. A little bit like our House of Lords.

Still, a defeat is a defeat. Let us not forget that Sarkozy has been deeply unpopular for a while now. Not just with the people but also fellow politicians. The change of majority at the Senate may not necessarily be a victory for the left but, as Agnès Poirier wrote in the Guardian, “a sign that la maison Sarkozy is bursting at the seams. The right is now openly divided about its leader”.

However, for any constitutional changes, the President needs to win three fifths of the vote from the combined upper and lower houses of parliament. The Senate can, without a doubt, slow down Sarkozy’s plans. That is if he is re elected.

Senators can themselves now propose legislation that even if the National Assembly blocks, will be uncomfortable for the government, and they can also launch potentially devastating commissions of inquiry, for example into political corruption allegations. Given the recent “Karachi affair”, this could prove to be damaging.

The real test will come after the Presidentialel ections. It is predicted that Sarkozy will be defeated, given his unpopularity and party scandals, but the left’s victory, it should be said, is not necessarily an all out-victory. It is an indication of the tough economic times, rather than an ideological swing, and politicians as well as the people have had enough of their present government.  This is true not just for France, but for the rest of Europe too.


Written by Iram Ramzan

September 27, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Posted in Europe

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War in Iraq and the re writing of history

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Hawk: Former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his attempt to re write history on newsnight. Copyright @BBC


Two weeks ago on Newsnight, in the run up to the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Kirsty Wark and Mark Urban interviewed US hawks Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld.

They were full of the usual rhetoric: great threat, outraged population, we had to take action, Saddam is gone, Iranis next, etc, and then came the whopper. The war in Iraq had a direct impact on the Arab Spring, they claimed, mentally patting themselves on the back. If the US had not ‘liberated’ Iraq, then the Arab Spring would not have happened – people would not have had the courage to overthrow their own dictators. “We inspired them! They should be thanking us on bended knee!” they might as well have said.

Kirsty, on Friday’s episode, continued with this theme and asked the same, ridiculous question to other interviewees: “Did the Iraq War have a direct impact on the Arab Spring?”

I did chortle oh-so-much at the sheer arrogance of the Americans taking responsibility for the Arab Spring.  Sorry to burst your stars and stripes draped bubbles, Messieurs Powell and Rumsfeld, but the Iraq war did not have the impact you would have us believe. The majority of the people in the Arab world are overthrowing dictators they believe to be loyal to America and the West. They do not want USinvolvement in their countries at all. That is what the uprising is about.

Yet the Americans, the war-mongering hawks in particular, seem to think the Arab world was inspired by the Iraq war and want something similar in their own countries – they don’t. At all.They did not support the Iraq war, which by the way was illegal under international law (Newsnight conveniently left that part out), they opposed it vehemently.

History is being re written here. It’s as though no one in today’s world has a long-term memory, seeming to forget the war in Iraq was, and still is, illegal and it is now seen as necessary, the first step in liberating the Arab world. If the Iraq war had an impact on the ArabSpring, it’s that it made Arabs finally stand up and say ‘enough’ and take control of their own affairs.

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 19, 2011 at 5:55 pm

Is Pakistan the new home of Al Qaeda

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Originally published on The Pryer: 18/09/2011


In 2010, David Cameron said that Pakistan could no longer “look both ways” when it comes to terrorism. It sparked outraged among Pakistanis, but someone should point out that he did make this speech in India (need I say more) and it is ironic for him to talk about terrorism when his own government is ‘liberating’ Libya yet remaining silent on the atrocities in Bahrain carried out by a government backed by Saudi Arabia, arguably one of the biggest exporters of terrorism in the world.

Everyone these days is a self-proclaimed ‘expert’ on Pakistan. From political analysts to the average Joe Blogger commenting away on articles, they all think they know everything about Pakistan. The majority will insist that it is a terrorist state, the most dangerous place in the world (the fact that bin Laden was found there did not help), and a deeply religious country where many people are demanding Shari ‘ah. They’re not. In fact, if you analyse election results, it is clear that the religious parties never gain more than a fraction of the vote.

As Pervez Hoodhboy rightly said, Pakistanis, especially the elite, do not want extreme Islam or any form of Talibanisation, because too much of it could limit their own personal liberties (they are rather fond of their ‘whiskey-sodas’ ). So that’s a definite no-no.

There seem to be two prevailing narratives of Pakistan: those that completely condemn it and label it a ‘failed state’ (what’s one of those anyway?) and the other from Pakistanis themselves is that their country is the victim of foreign intervention (“It’s all America’s fault!” ).  There is some truth in both sides of the debate, and we must remember that although it is a deeply troubled and volatile country, its people have been some of the biggest victims of terrorism.  The invasion of Afghanistan, and subsequently Iraq, saw the rise of unrest and suicide bombings.

But what one must remember is that Pakistan has had its problems long before Al-Qaeda and the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. The clock did not start ticking after 2001. One only has to thumb through the history books to get a sense of the instability of that region, where most of its provinces were opted into the new state of Pakistan without the majority of the people’s consent, and are still fighting off the heavy hand of the state and army. It seems to me that the upheavals are merely a continuation of this anti-Pakistan sentiment, a fight for independence or at least for fairer representation.

This, I believe, makes them an easy prey to extremists from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, who seem to provide an alternative in their battles against foreign occupiers. Fatima Bhutto was correct when she wrote that the people in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (formerly North West Frontier Province) did not vote for Shari ‘ah, and only put up with the Taliban because they at least provide facilities and some sort of order in a generally lawless region, as opposed to the state which is choosing to ignore them, or bomb them into submission. So in this sense, it is easy to see why one would believe Pakistan to be the new home of Al-Qaeda.

Historically, as mentioned earlier, Pakistanis have practiced a moderate version of Islam that venerates saints and emphasises a personal relationship with God. But over the years there has been an influx of Arab preachers who brought a more austere form of the religion. It becomes even more complex when the current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, is not so popular with the Saudis, as they preferred former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who introduced more conservative policies when he was in power.

I put this down to a continual identity crisis– how does Pakistan define itself? They’re ‘not Indian’ but they were, once upon a time, and suddenly trying to distance themselves from their neighbour is resulting in looking elsewhere and identifying itself by religion more than anything else.  It’s a predominantly Muslim country so do they look towards another Muslim country, eg Saudi Arabia and borrow Arab customs and terminology or create a new one altogether? Not so long ago, the sight of women wearing niqabs (face veils) was not exactly common. The phrase to say goodbye, Khuda Hafiz (May God be your protector), has now become Allah Hafiz, in an attempt to be ‘Islamically correct’. Strangely enough, even Bollywood is catching on this trend!

There is a refusal to move forward, remaining nostalgic most of the time. For example they, in particular the politicians, look back at the vision of its founder, Jinnah, hoping to find some inspiration, and then there is the possible return of Musharraf, a failed, corrupt dictator who allowed Pakistan to be used as a military base for the US in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle; first they welcomed the late Benzair Bhutto back into their arms, despite allegations of corruption, and now it is the same with Musharraf.

In a way, it is not surprising that there is a strong anti-American sentiment in Pakistan when the people are subject to drone bombs and leaders allying themselves with the US. This will certainly not change, regardless of who is in power, as Pakistan is, and will continue to be, an ally in the ‘War on Terror’. But at the same time, Pakistanis need to take responsibility for what is happening in their country instead of blaming the Americans or saying “this is not my Pakistan”.  If you are part of one country then you all share the problem and likewise you all come up with a solution.

But with bin Laden’s death, did Pakistanis reflect on this and ask why this had happened? No. Instead, their main anger was not at the fact that bin Laden had been able to hide in Pakistan but at the ‘violation’ of their country’s sovereignty. Therein lies part of the problem – they do not ask the necessary questions and direct their energy on questioning the US instead. Ten years ago suicide bombing was virtually unknown, now it has become the norm: “Another suicide bombing, what else is new?”

Last month Pakistan celebrated its 64th birthday, remarkable for a ‘failed state’. Extremists in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda or other fringe groups, may have some support among people in certain areas where the state has failed them, along with the iron grip of the army. But as for Pakistan being the ‘new home’ for Al-Qaeda? To quote Pervez Musharraf: “No sir!”


Written by Iram Ramzan

September 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm

September 11th 2011: what effect(s) have changes in policy had on everyday people?

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“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same.”

George Orwell, 1984


Less than a month after the attacks on September 11th 2001, British and American forces invaded Afghanistan with the stated goal of dismantling the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. These people, we were told, were against our way of life and would stop at nothing to kill us all.

The majority of the American people were in favour of this war – revenge was necessary. The ones that paid the price were the innocent Afghan civilians who probably did not even know what happened on September 11th, never mind know who the perpetrators were. And then there were the attacks in London on July 7th 2005, which convinced even the British people that they were no safer than the Americans.

In an address to the Society of Editors in 2007, the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, insisted that the root of the problem was ‘ideological’. “It does not accept the legitimacy of other viewpoints,” he said of Al Qaeda. “It is intolerant, and it believes in a form of government which is explicitly anti-democratic.”

This type of fear mongering, ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, has been prevalent and consistent since 2001. Our governments re iterate this message that there are terrorists out there who want to kill us (and to be fair some do), hence all these wars we are fighting, and it does nothing to allay peoples fears when even the media jumps on the bandwagon, running headlines of radicals demanding Sharia in Britain.



It is the same in America: remember the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ debacle? Never mind that the proposed building was neither a mosque nor was it near ‘Ground Zero’, it sparked outrage because it was the architectural equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the families whose loved-ones died on September 11th.  Never mind also that at least 300 Muslims died that day.

The more worrying aspect of the rising Islamophobia is that it does not just exist amongst the Far-Right, but even within the mainstream politics and commentaries. Journalist Peter Oborne concluded that in today’s climate the media say things about Islam and Muslims they would never say about other groups. When he replaced the word’ ‘Muslim’ in some recent headlines with ‘Jews’, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Gays’ and showed them to members of the public, they found those headlines deeply offensive. When the killer behind the Norway atrocities, Anders Behring Breivik, claimed Europe was becoming ‘Islamised’, though many condemned his actions they believe he had a point. Imagine if someone was to say the same about the September 11th hijackers?

Even President Obama himself was not exempt from heightened suspicions. In 2008, he was directly confronted on prime time television over ‘allegations’ swirling around the internet that he is a secret Muslim who worships the Qur’an. Perhaps this is because his middle name is Hussein, which automatically makes him Muslim. By that logic I must be Belgian, since I ate a waffle once upon a time.

It is both sad and slightly bemusing that being a Muslim is an accusation, a crime even. Anyone who even ‘looks Muslim’ is now targeted. Since 2001, the Sikh community in Britain have been victims of racial and religious-motivated attacks, with people shouting “Bin Laden” at Sikh men because of their turbans and beards.

While many (reluctantly) admit not all Muslims are terrorists, ‘all terrorists are Muslims’, apparently, despite the fact that only 6% of terrorist attacks in the US were committed by Islamic extremists. As John Gray rightly points out, far more people in Britain have been killed and injured by offshoots of the IRA than by Islamist groups.

What is quite disturbing is how some people are willing to relinquish some of their civil liberties, e.g. the US Patriot Act and airport scanners, for the ‘greater good’. One woman in New York told Al Jazeera: “I do [feel safer]. I travel a lot, so … people have a problem with the airport body scans and everything, but I embrace it. Anything that makes our country safer, I’m all for it.” But as Benjamin Franklin once said, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Ten years later, people on the whole are still worried. The reasons for this are the media and our governments alike. How can we forget about those atrocities when our governments remind us everyday to be constantly vigilant, and every year the media is in frenzy in the run-up to the anniversary of September 11th? This year alone, the articles and specialist programmes started in late July at least two months before the actual anniversary. This week’s Question Time on the BBC was dedicated to analysing and remembering what happened ten years ago.

But for all these discussions, for all these programmes and articles, there remains the usual narrative: ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Sill, ten years down the line, Muslims in the West have to convince everyone that they can be loyal citizens. There is fear directed at both sides, at Muslims and Non-Muslims. Though it is important to remember those that died on September 11th and July 7th, many more have died in the ‘War on Terror’ since, and commemorating these anniversaries every year with the usual analyses is not going to help anyone. To quote Mona Eltahawy: “Let’s draw the curtain on 9/11 anniversaries after this 10th one.”

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Europe, islam, middle east, UK, USA

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