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Archive for June 2015

Terror across three continents

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If you’re anything like me, you were expecting to have the Friday feeling as soon as you left work. The anticipation of the weekend was unfortunately blighted by the horrific news that terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

In Tunisia, a gunman opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 37 people before security forces shot him to death. In France, an attacker stormed the a chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory. The suspect was identified as Yassine Salhi.

And finally, in Kuwait City, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in one of the largest Shiite mosques, killing nearly 30 people. The suicide bomber was identified as Khalid Thamer Jaber Al-Shamri, a Saudi citizen born in Kuwait.

My heart goes out to all those people who have lost a loved one in these barbaric attacks.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, many commentators predicted that it would not be long before we would see another terrorist attack in Europe.

The Institute for the Study of War predicted earlier this year that IS would launch global offensives a year after declaring a caliphate. Unfortunately, they have all been proven correct.

Progress at last

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663

While some people are determined to keep us in the Middle Ages, others are keen for us to progress. Well done to the US Supreme Court for ruling same-sex legal nationwide.

In a landmark decision, the court ruled, 5-4, that the Constitution requires same-sex couples be allowed to marry in all 50 states.

On a day where there were three separate terrorist attacks, this was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Children should not be fasting

Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, issued a letter to parents informing them that it would not allow children to fast in order to ‘safeguard the health and education of the child’. In the letter, the headteacher said children would not be able to fast without meeting with him first.

Some Muslim groups were in an uproar, and said schools should support parents instead of ‘blanket enforce’ their own rules when it comes to religion.

I am with the school on this. They are put in a position where they are responsible for the child’s welfare and all heath and safety matters.

Children should not be fasting. True, only healthy adults are required to fast during Ramadan. And I appreciate that  the school felt it had to consult with Islamic scholars in order to win round some Muslim parents. But at the same time, it is not within the remit of a secular school to decide what is or is not Islamic, and I fear this will be heading into dangerous territories.

On the BBC Asian Network (15 minutes in) the father of one 11-year-old was happy that his son was fasting because it’s “a challenge”. I’m not sure about you, but ‘challenge’ is not quite the word I would use to describe a child being deprived of food and water for 19 hours.

The children being interviewed said fasting is difficult, with one feeling guilty because he was unable to for half the month. This comes down to parenting. One teacher, a Mr Ishmael, said the children feel pressured by the parents to fast. Parents should not be encouraging their children to fast. Even if they do not actively encourage them, they will not discourage them, citing ‘choice’ as a reason.

My mum forbade me from fasting when I was in primary school, after I came home one day insisting I had to fast because one friend of mine was doing so. But when I saw my friend being very sick the next day, I decided perhaps it wasn’t for me! Children, naturally, want to copy what adults do and this is no different in Ramadan. When one of my young cousins insisted he was going to fast, my aunty played along and said that of course he could fast – between breakfast and lunch! He was none the wiser and thought he was sharing in the Ramadan experience.

Tahir ul Qadri – an ideological salesman?

Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, of Minhaj-ul-Quran International, is a respected figure in the West. He gained widespread media attention when he issued a 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism, in which he said that “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it”.

Earlier this week, MQI  announced the launch of the first Islamic ‘counter-terrorism curriculum’ (aka this has nothing to do with Islam), which was welcomed by both the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation and Faith Matters.

There’s just one problem. As the ever eloquent Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid pointed out in Left Foot Forward, Qadri proudly takes ownership of formulating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has been abused to intimidate and incite the murder of religious minorities through mob violence.

He goes on to write:

Qadri is renowned for saying whatever sells, whether it’s anti-government fascism through his politics and a bigoted version of Islam back home, or apologism in the garb of Islamic ‘moderation’ in the West.

With Islamist terrorism reverberating all over the world and over 700 British citizens having fled to fight along with ISIS, the need for reform among Muslims around the globe is evident.

However, ideological salesmen who change their ideas to suit the audience’s demands can never be reformists.

If the aim is to counter extremism, why invite the man responsible for one of the most abused laws in the world? Surely that is counter productive?

And if one is to argue that there is a ‘true’ version of Islam, what would stop the extremists from preaching that theirs is the authentic one?

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 26, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Is the hijab a feminist statement?

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I don’t know about you all, but I’m getting rather bored of the I-love-my-hijab sentiments now. It means, unfortunately, you have to put up with my lengthy rants.

The Guardian (who else) recently posted a video in which Hanna Yusuf asks, in a tone usually reserved for naughty schoolchildren, “why a simple piece of clothing is seen as the very epitome of oppression.”

She goes on to say that “many women find empowerment in rejecting the idea that women can be reduced to their sexual allure – and we should not assume that every women who wears the hijab has been forced into it.”

I was not aware there was so much outrage against the hijab. In this country, where the (visible) Muslim population has grown, the headscarf is not really that controversial, as opposed to the full face veil – niqab – which is seen even by many Muslims as extreme.

Let us tackle the first point about oppression. By contrast, why is the hijab seen as liberating, or a symbol of feminism? In fact, Muslims themselves – whether that’s imams or scholars – are the ones who make such grand claims about the hijab in the first place. If they didn’t then I doubt anyone else would care.

Hanna goes on to say that the hijab “resists commercial imperatives that support consumer culture”. It is true that in the world we live in, capitalism has made consumers of us all – including Muslim women.

In fact, Muslims comprise one of the fastest growing consumer markets in the world! The ‘halal’ industry is huge. Everywhere you go there will be an Islamic store selling you all sorts of ‘Islamic’ goods including hijabs and hijab accessories for women. Far from sticking two fingers up to Western consumerism, Muslim women are embracing it, matching their hijab with the latest trendy garments on offer in British high street stores and offering tutorials for other Muslimahs to follow.

Hanna wants us to respect her choice to wear hijab while denigrating women who don’t wear it, suggesting they’re slaves of the western fashion industry. So what does your decision to wear hijab make you, Hanna?

Then there is “false dichotomy” (as Kate Maltby puts it in the Spectator) between the hijab and bikini, which is “one of the oldest anti-feminist tropes in the book, a mild reframing of the old Madonna-whore complex, for which my own Christianity has been rightly pilloried.”

And, correct me if I am wrong, there are no countries in the world that make the wearing of a bikini mandatory unlike the hijab, which is compulsory in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Women in those countries are flogged if they disobey the strict dress code. What happened to their choice? It is easy for Hanna, a privileged Western woman, to insist it’s her choice, but about the rights of her sisters in Muslim countries? They do not have that luxury.

If wearing the hijab is a feminist symbol of rejection of western objectification of women as sex objects then does that mean wearing the full Afghan style burqa or Saudi style niqab is a stronger feminist statement, as both garments remove all identifiers of the woman as a sexualised individual?

As for the argument that women aren’t objectified with a hijab on, that is simply not true. Those who don’t wear a headscarf are likened to uncovered lollipop which have flies buzzing around them (great metaphor and not at all demeaning towards men by the way). Covered women, however, are like precious pearls or diamonds. Is that not objectification?

When I was nine years old, I was taught in mosque that if I did not cover my hair, Satan would urinate on it. No wonder it looks great, I hear you say. Jokes aside, imagine hearing that as a young child. Not only was it terrifying but the concept of shame was instilled in me at a young age, something which is the case for many young girls around the world. Many Muslim women who do not wear the hijab are constantly made to feel guilty about it. In fact, some women over compensate by defending the right for women to wear hijab (and rightly so) but are not so vocal about their own right not to wear it.

For ‘just a piece of cloth’ it seems to do so much. It’s a feminist statement, it’s a two-finger salute to capitalism, it’s an anti-rape shield, etc.

There is no consistency with the headscarf argument. On the one hand women are told to wear because it has been instructed by God and it has nothing whatsoever to do with men, but on the other hand, they are then told actually yes, wear it for the sake of it men too, because they can’t control themselves and you don’t want to invite attention on yourself now do you? If you must reveal yourself, do so to your close male relatives, e.g. your husband. Why is dressing for one man more empowering? Either way, you’re still factoring a man’s opinion into what you decide to wear.

For years, many Muslims would insist that we don’t need feminism because Islam is more equal and superior. Now, however, feminism is compatible with Islam. I can’t keep up.

Few people will approach a man and inquire about the way in which he is dressed. Yes, yes, men must “lower their gaze”, but a man won’t be denounced as a ‘bad Muslim’ nor will his dress code be used as an excuse to prevent him from attending the mosque or other Islamic functions. There aren’t dozens of books dedicated to telling men what they must and must not wear as there are for women and the dozens of guidelines they are given, exclusively by men.

Hanna, like many women who wear the hijab, wants to be judged for her mind,not the way she is dressed. But the only reason non Muslims have focused on hijab is because, as mentioned before, Muslims themselves have put too much emphasis on the headscarf. If you don’t like people focusing on your hijab then don’t make it the centre of attention in the first place.

It is also slightly ironic that she says this while wearing a trendy lace black dress (what was that about consumerism?) and bright blue hijab with a face full of make up.

Many of these women claim, “I’m more than my hijab”, but then have stupid events like world hijab day where you can experience what it means to be a Muslim woman by covering your hair, thereby reducing a Muslim woman’s experience to a piece of cloth.

Rather than promote modesty, the hijab does reduce a woman to her sexual allure. Islamically, any girl who has reached sexual maturity must start covering, which then tells the world – specifically men – that she is is sexually available for him and ready for marriage.

Hanna constantly talks about choice, but here is a question for her and for women who wear the hijab: would they ‘ choose’ to wear it if they didn’t believe it was a religious requirement, or if they weren’t told on a regular basis that good women are supposed to cover?

In fact, whenever women put on the headscarf and post a picture on Facebook for all to see (how very modest) the response is usually greeted with “Mashaallah!” or, “you look so much more beautiful with hijab on.” I thought the whole point was to see the woman for who she was? Sounds contradictory, don’t you think?

Also, if the hijab really is about obedience to God  then why is it not obligatory for post-menopausal women? Qur’an 24:60 states, “Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest; and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things.”

That is a great feminist statement.

Unfortunately, women who do wear a headscarf are judged twofold. When they are seen doing things they are not “supposed to do” (smoking, talking to strange men) they are told that they are hypocrites because, like it or not, they are seen as walking, talking, breathing examples of Islam. Anything they do is reflected on the religion.

One point I wish to end on is that if a woman is not free to remove her headscarf without the fear of scorn or ridicule, then it is not a choice. I am glad Hanna can wear what she wants but far too many women do not have choice.

Published for The Nation on 26/6/2015

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 25, 2015 at 11:25 pm

Nirbhaya – fearless women break the silence

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IMG_20150602_083149A shorter, amended version of this review was first published in the Oldham Chronicle on June 2

When a young woman was brutally gang-raped in the Indian capital Delhi on December 16, 2012, and subsequently died 13 days later, there was a  worldwide outcry.

What followed was even more harrowing, that being the countless women who broke the silence to tell us that this was not the exception, but the norm.

Nirbhaya marries real-life testimonies with a dramatised recreation of what happened to Jyoti Singh Pandey, the 23-year-old student whom the media dubbed “Nirbhaya”, or fearless.

Internationally acclaimed playwright and director Yael Farber brings a blistering evocation of that terrible night and the ripples of change it set in motion. Presented by the Southbank Centre, the play came to Oldham’s Grange Theatre as part of the Alchemy Festival 2015.

Priyanka Bose, Poorna Jagannathan, Sneha Jawale and Pamela Sinha describe their bodies as no longer being their own, as we witness the daily harassment and groping in the bustling streets of a city littered with the relics of lost empires, a city now described as “hell on earth for women”.

                                                      Poorna Jaggannathan

The play uses the rape and death of Jyoti as a catalyst to break the silence around sexual violence. The women, too, are fearless, as each tells her account of being sexually violated one by one. In a culture where the fear of shame can be overpowering, breaking the silence is a courageous act.

Ankur Vikal darts in and out of every male role, a bystander, an abuser, a father, brother, and even Pandey’s friend, Awindra Pandey.

Farber’s language, interwoven with the real stories, is violent, angry and poetic. “I want to pull my tongue from my mouth like a tree. I want to pull out its roots,” Bose says.

Jyoti herself does not speak but sings eerily throughout the play, a ghost who cannot tell her own story but has it told for her. She is now forever mythologised, a symbol of everything that is wrong in Indian society.

A woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. According to the country’s National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1 percent since 2010. The number of rapes reported has also risen.Nearly a third of rape victims in India are under the age of 18. One in 10 are under 14.

Too often women are told that they should stay at home, where they would be much safer. What was she doing out of the house in the first place, is a question directed at these women. What, then, would they say to Sinha, a Canadian actress of Indian heritage, who was raped in Toronto 20 years ago by a stranger who broke into her apartment? Or to Bose who was raped by several men working in her family home?

Nirbhaya is not an easy watch, and nor should it be. Prepare to be shocked, horrified, and bring plenty of tissues with you. The silence of the audience  was punctuated by sniffs and sobs. One young woman sitting nearby was wiping away tears as she listened to the story of Jawale, a dowry-bride whose family tried to kill her by setting her on fire. Her heavily scarred face streamed with tears as she mourned the loss of a son was snatched away from her by her husband.

While the men who raped and killed Jyoti Pandey were charged and convicted, the men who abused the women in the play have gotten away with their crimes, which emphasises how deep-rooted the problem is.

Nirbhaya ends with each woman standing up, saying her name and slowly raising a fist in the air. They are no longer broken women, ashamed of their bodies or what has happened to them (nor should they be). They are no longer victims, but survivors.

“Bring it the fuck on,” Jagannathan roars. They are fearless. They are Nirbhaya.

Farewell Charlie

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RIP Charles Kennedy

Homo economicus' Weblog

Charles Kennedy was the reason I rejoined party political activisim. But unlike him, he kept to his promise when he died to leave feet first with his membership card in his pocket. Alcoholism may have forced others to ensure he stood down as leader, but Nick Clegg was standing on Kennedy’s shoulders (having lost a few MPs) when he went into coalition government with the Conservatives in 2010.

Charles Kennedy was the social liberal I considered myself to be. Against ID cards, tuition fees and unilateral military action without UN Security Council go ahead (my proviso against that: when another country’s sovereignty or population was not threatened). The second Iraq war did influence my timing, as the threat to civil liberties and religious freedom did following 9/11. It was a no brainer to join.

In the same way it was to leave, two years into the coalition. Nick Clegg’s sober…

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Written by Iram Ramzan

June 2, 2015 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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