iramramzan

Just another WordPress.com site…but better

Archive for March 2015

Naz Shah – great story, but what about her politics?

with one comment

If you have not yet heard of Naz Shah, you must have been living in a cave for the last two weeks. Naz is Labour’s candidate for Bradford West, who will stand against Respect MP George Galloway in the general election in May.

Naz, the chair of mental health charity Sharing Voices Bradford and mother-of-three, was forced into marrying her cousin when she just aged 15. Her biological father ran away with their 16-year-old neighbour.  She spent 12 years campaigning, with the support of Southall Black Sisters, for the release of her mother – a woman imprisoned for murdering the man who beat, raped and pimped her for over ten years.

No doubt her inspiring story could not be further from the Westminster elite of professional politicians. But none of the interviews have revealed much about her political views. As interesting as her background story is, what does she want for Bradford? What can she do that George Galloway has not done for the city?

The word ‘biraderi’ (patrilineage) has become synonymous with Bradford politics. I worry that Naz may not be so dismissive of identity politics as her background might have initially suggested, judging by some of the comments she made in The Times this weekend (£) about the headscarf (“To a Muslim man you’re more respectable, it’s not because you’re a victim”) and integration (“People can live amongst each other with different identities and different languages because that’s the way the world is.”)

I guess we will have to wait until after the election to find out.

Do British Muslims have a problem with apostates

Nothing riles Muslims more than the presence of ex-Muslims.

On the Big Questions Abdullah al Andalusi, who describes himself as a ‘thinker’ (no, me neither) was very aggressive towards Amal Farah, an ex-Muslim of Somali origin, and constantly interrupted her while she was making her point. He claimed that Islam has no apostasy laws – try telling that to the Muslim countries who have blasphemy laws and punish those who speak out against Islam. He translates “irtida” as “sedition” or “treason”. Misinterpretation – that old chestnut eh? So then I ask, what is the punishment for treason?

Andalusi then took to writing a post-show blog, denouncing the entire thing as an “anti-Islam fest”. Of course it was. That is the problem with people like Andalusi. They want a debate, but on their own terms. They claim they will not compromise on their Islam but in certain public forums they will twist and turn so much so as to hide their real views.

The BBC also wheeled out Mohammed Shafiq who spoke about the importance of religious freedom. This is the same man who once described Quilliam Foundation’s Maajid Nawaz as ‘gustaakh-e rasool” (defamer of the prophet) when Nawaz tweeted a Jesus and Mo cartoon. Thankfully, he has now apologised though I am not sure if it is much of an apology if he still stands by his reasons for saying what he did.

Shafiq also said we cannot have a rational debate with ex Muslims – in other words, don’t bother talking about Islam unless you are a Muslim. Some Muslims do, however, discuss and and even denigrate other religions but get defensive when their own religion is attacked. Why the double standards?

I have met many ex Muslims and they are not anti Muslim at all. All they want is the right to leave Islam without being persecuted or disowned by their families.

If, as Muslims, we preach that Islam is peaceful and tolerant, and “there is no compulsion in Islam” then we need to accept people like Amal Farah and other ex Muslims who do not wish to follow Islam. We happily wave the Islam-is-the fastest-growing-religion” banner and talk with such pride when someone converts to Islam but silence those who are no longer Muslims. Some will say, leave Islam, fine, but why do you need to talk about it?

My response would be, why shouldn’t they talk about it? Do other Muslims ever consider the possibility that the reason why ex Muslims continue to talk about Islam once they have left is precisely because it is still such a taboo? Perhaps if they weren’t met with such hostility they would not need to do so. Let us not forget the fact that many ex Muslims are still “in the closet” – they still cannot openly talk about the fact that they no longer believe in Islam because they now the consequences.

Well done to Amal who stood her ground despite being shouted down by some Muslims on the panel and in the audience, and to Dr Usama Hasan, imam and a senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, for preaching the message of peace and tolerance.

Advertisements

International Women’s Day – Dissenting Voices

with 3 comments

l-r Sandhya Sharma, Pragna Patel, Amal Farah and Gita Sahgal

l-r Sandhya Sharma, Pragna Patel, Amal Farah and Gita Sahgal

“It’s women who have to take up these issues. The left is not going to do it. The left are trying to silence us.”

You would be forgiven for thinking this statement was made quite recently. In fact, it is made by one of the women who appeared in ‘Struggle or Submission’, which documented the beginnings of Women Against Fundamentalism (WAF).
WAF was set up partly in response to the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, but also with the aim of challenging fundamentalism in all religions.

Human rights activist and co-founder of Southall Black Sisters Gita Sahgal made the documentary, which filmed women working and living at a women’s refuge in Brent, who wanted the choice to practice, or not practice, the faith which they were born into. Many of the Muslim women wanted to follow their own interpretations of Islam without any interference from male clerics – a debate that still continues to this very day. Some of those women could not understand how young women were taking up the veil after decades of fighting for the right to remove it.

The documentary was shown as part of an International Women’s Day talk at Central Library in Manchester, titledWomen Against Fundamentalism – Stories of Dissent and Solidarity’. It showed a group of women from all backgrounds marching in support of Rushdie as part of their own right to religious control, at a time when race made way for religion in identity politics. They were attacked by both the religious fundamentalists and the fascists simultaneously.

The three speakers were co-founders of SBS, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal, and Amal Farah, an ex-Muslim from Somalia. Sandhya Sharma, a Manchester-based activist, chaired the discussion.

How fitting that these women were talking about their challenges against both religious fundamentalists and racists alike while an EDL march was taking place in the city centre.

Pragna said that WAF predicted the rise of religious fundamentalism.

“We don’t take pleasure in the fact that we were right in our predictions,” she explained. “Everything we will say has already been said 25 years ago.”

Pragna Patel

Pragna Patel

This was echoed by Gita Sahgal, who added: “The things we talked about have remained valid.”

SBS was described as the “rebellious child of Thatcherism”, which “challenged the myth of the community”. Even today, we find that look at communities through the prism of faith, which means that we either ignore voices of dissent or deliberately shut them down. Dissenters were told repeatedly (and shamefully) by the left that “now is not the time to raise these issues”.

“The only tools we have are our voices of dissent,” Pragna said. “Suppression of dissent for women is literally a matter of life and death.

Amal’s family fled war-torn Somalian to Canada before settling in Britain. Her mother then started practicing a more austere version of Islam, swapping her Somali dirac – a kaftan-like garment – to the Islamic jilbab which covers women from head to toe.

To be Somali is to be Muslim, Amal explained. She describes having her first period as an end to what few freedoms she had had as a child and told of her secret passion for football, a sport which she was never allowed to play because a male could, by chance, walk past and see the females behaving ‘immodestly’.

“I was never a religious person, I just happened to be born into [Islam]”, she said. She came “out” as an ex-Muslim in 2004, much to her mother’s horror who then moved her siblings to Dubai and then back to Somalia.

Amal Farah

Amal Farah

Amal’s story is not that uncommon. More and more ex-Muslims are “coming out” and sharing their stories, though often they must do so secretly, for fear of reprisal. In fact, Amal was so scared of what could happen that she was not listed as a speaker at the event. Understandable perhaps in a Muslim-majority country, but in Britain in 2015? A travesty.

It is not the other, as Gita explained, but killing the other within. Minorities within minorities, who dare to speak out and challenge the status quo. Shamefully, such voices have been stifled by even our governments who willingly worked with “non-violent extremists” who were known to have “run death squads” abroad.

“Non-violent extremists – what a dangerous and ridiculous oxymoron”, Gita said. “The government knew what they were doing.”

She also expressed frustration at the fact that young people were joining ISIS and getting into trouble with the authorities while extremist leaders, such as Anjem Choudary, are able to roam free.

I asked the panel if they believe the media and the government have finally woken up to these problems. After all, the pseudo-human rights group CAGE has lost its funding from the Roddick Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, after its research director Asim Qureshi claimed that the security services helped “radicalise” Mohammed Emwzi aka ‘Jihadi John’. Will we be having the same discussion in another 25 years’ time?

Gita replied: “Things have shifted. People say the tide is turning. At most we’re like pebbles on the beach being swept away. It’s a long struggle.”

Gita Sahgal

Gita Sahgal

It is hard for one not to feel disheartened when realising that what the likes of Sahgal and Patel are saying now has been said before and will continue to be said and no matter how hard activists drum home this message, some continue not to pay attention.

A good demonstration of this was when an Indian lady said she could not support SBS’ stance on the Charlie Hebdo killings, describing the magazine as ‘racist’. Pragna challenged this myth superbly and explained that “the victims of fundamentalists are also alienated and disenfranchised.

If the likes of Gita, Pragna and Amal are just pebbles on the beach, they are an important collection of pebbles. We may very well be having this discussion for decades to come, but the difference now is that more and more voices have been added to this debate, creating a mass movement to challenge fundamentalism. We will not remain the “other within” for much longer.

Happy International Women’s Day to the brave women who continue to speak out and do important work within their communities.

It is not just Islamists who play the victim card

leave a comment »

Originally published in The Sunday Times (£) on March 1

When Abubaker Deghayes heard that his son Abdullah had been killed while fighting alongside his brothers for the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria last April, he described the 18-year-old as a “martyr”. Although he said he had “never encouraged” his sons to go and fight, he felt “some comfort” that they had fought for a “just cause”.

Other parents of young men and women who have gone abroad to join Isis have expressed shock at the actions of their children. How can anyone raised in Britain abandon their seemingly comfortable life in favour of joining a death cult?

Deghayes has repeatedly spoken about injustices in Muslim countries. It is a concern shared by many Muslims, who often refer to “brothers and sisters” being killed in Iraq, Syria or Gaza, and say something must be done about it. After being exposed to such views, is it any wonder that the Deghayes brothers left their home and went off to fight?

There are problems in some Muslim communities that allow for unpleasant and often dangerous views to fester. A BBC poll of 1,000 British Muslims, published last week, found that 27% had sympathy for the motives for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. A Muslim man from Bradford, when asked on Radio 4 about the cartoons, remarked, “If they hadn’t poked fun at our prophet, no one would have died.”

Even seemingly modern Muslims share these views. Many do not support violence or murder, but they believe their communities are always under attack and unfair scrutiny. Just listen to the BBC Asian Network’s phone-in show on any given day and hear how many Muslim callers either deny the existence of Isis, insisting it is a CIA plot (no, really), or condemn as non-Muslims anyone who follows a different interpretation of Islam.

Some on the political left have lent support to Islamist organisations such as Cage — a pseudo human-rights group – and are silent about the rise of fundamentalism, possibly because they do not wish to be labelled as racists.

Unfortunately, such groups receive support not just from local politicians but also from naive Muslims who want to tackle Islamophobia, little realising that they are tacitly supporting shady organisations.

These push forth poisonous ideologies, yet in the same breath claim to be victims of Islamophobia and racism. They blame everyone else for radicalisation.

It is not just Islamists who play the victim card. Whenever there is a discussion on anything relating to Islam or terrorism, conspiracy theories are wheeled out by many Muslims: 9/11, 7/7 and Osama bin Laden’s death were all CIA or Israeli (read: Jewish) plots to justify more wars, they say.

The bar is set low for Muslims. We are satisfied with people condemning murder, as though that is something to be congratulated. But condemnation alone is nothing if the root causes are not tackled.

Foreign policy and other grievances are exploited by extremist preachers, many of whom have been given platforms in mosques and university Islamic societies. Activists have long been warning institutions and those on the left not to cosy up to soft Islamists, who have been arguing for the creation of a caliphate for decades.

The seeds of this destructive and reactionary ideology were sown a long time ago. Until we stop getting defensive and start challenging the mindset within our own communities, nothing will ever change.

Written by Iram Ramzan

March 2, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Shiraz Socialist

Because there have to be some lefties with a social life

Forever young.

"Speak now or forever hold your peace in pieces."

The Gerasites

Pro-Democracy; Anti-Totalitarianism.

Futile Democracy

A left-leaning focus on US Politics, UK Politics, World Affairs, and Religion & Secularism

Homo economicus' Weblog

2B3 a Freethinking Space

As Us

A Space for Writers of the World

Six Pillars

North Africa, South and West Asia (Middle East) Arts Platforms

the fatal feminist

Lethal poison for the System.