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Archive for May 2017

Walking the streets of Manchester, I find tolerance rather than hatred

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Originally published in The Sunday Times

At about 7am on Tuesday, I awake to several messages on my phone from friends asking me to text them as soon as I could. I wonder what I have done until I go online. Not Manchester, I think. Terrorist attacks happen everywhere else, but not here, not in my home city.

I spend the day on social media and watching the news. I feel sad and angry. How could anyone target children? But a part of me feels hope. Mancunians are coming together in their grief and solidarity while the world watches and gives support.

The usual suspects are wheeled out for television and radio interviews, hailed as “moderate community leaders”. Among them are commentators who have supported blasphemy laws in Pakistan and whose organisations have played host to extremist preachers.

If these are the moderates, I think, then we are well and truly up the creek without a paddle. Sometimes the media really are to blame. In an age of 24-hour news, there’s a need to fill airtime with commentary, even if it is from undesirable people.

Wednesday
I have a conversation with a Muslim friend; we start exchanging stories of our childhood going to the mosque to learn about the Koran and Islam. “Let’s face it, we all learnt that going to concerts is haram [forbidden] and listening to music is wrong,” he says.

He is right. I remember one of the mosque teachers told me and the other young girls that the famous Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was once exhumed and his tongue was found wrapped around his body.

This was a punishment from Allah, the teacher explained, because of the way he would sing about Allah; it was wrong. I felt scared, as any child would. And I felt confused because my family and everyone I knew listened to Khan.

But Sunni Muslims are taught that music is generally forbidden, only vocal music is permissible (halal) and instruments are haram. And these views are considered mainstream, not necessarily extreme.*

This is why I get frustrated when people simply blame British foreign policy for creating terrorists. What do teens at a concert have to do with British foreign policy? These people simply hate this “heathen” lifestyle.

They have bought into an ideology that hates anyone opposed to them. So why are we surprised when extremists act on their hate and contempt?

Think about it; if they were really angry about Muslims dying then why aren’t they “radicalised” by the slaughter caused by Isis, al-Qaeda and other jihadists? If they cared about Muslim lives, they would have taken up arms against the Taliban in Afghanistan for starving their own people, or against Isis for killing fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq, or Saudi Arabia for bombing Yemen.

Sometimes we are told that jihadists and extremists are disenfranchised. Give me a break. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was not disenfranchised at all.

He was born and brought up here, given all the rights and privileges of every other British citizen. His family was given shelter in the UK after fleeing Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s regime in Libya. And this is how he repaid Britain?

Thursday
This afternoon I go out into Manchester city centre. Other than a few police officers in Market Street, which is where all the shops are, it seemed like any other day. Hundreds of people were in St Ann’s Square laying flowers in tribute to the victims.

Where’s the hate, I wondered? The vast majority of people in times such as these come together and offer support. Do not believe the loud voices shouting about “Islamophobia” and the backlash against Muslims.

British people, on the whole, are marvellous and tolerant. If a few dirty looks and the odd incident of someone being spat at (for which there is no excuse, by the way) constitutes a “backlash”, then British Muslims are overwhelmingly fortunate to live here.

I meet a friend, a student originally from Iraq. We sit in a cafe discussing the terrorist attack. He says blasts are pretty much normal in Iraq, but he’s surprised when it happens here.

He tells me about some of the foreign fighters who have gone over to join Isis in Iraq; the converts are the most vicious ones, he explains.

The local fighters often join Isis for money. But the foreign recruits, he says, will kill mercilessly and have bought into the vicious ideology of Isis completely.

Friday
Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech that links UK foreign policy to extremism. It seems we can’t win either way: both our action and inaction in
the Middle East are direct causes of terrorist attacks here in the West.

I wonder what foreign policy led to the Taliban massacring children in Pakistan Or the murder of Copts in Egypt. With Corbyn as leader, I am never voting Labour again.

My friend tells me she cried several times when she heard about the attack. On Tuesday she went into a cafe where the people there were slightly cold towards her. She wears a hijab; perhaps they blame all Muslims for all terrorism, and that hurts, she says. I suggest that perhaps they were subdued after the recent incident and were like that in general, rather than just because she is Muslim. I hope so, anyway.

All week we have heard journalists and presenters asking: why did this happen and how can we prevent it? After all this time we are still not having an honest conversation about the role ideology plays in recruiting potential terrorists.

The next attack will see this same debate and the same commentators recycle this debate again. Sometimes I wonder: why do we bother?

 

*NB: Just to elaborate on this point. I do not mean to imply that anyone taught music is haram will go on to kill someone for going to a concert. But I was trying to demonstrate the clash of values there are sometimes with British Muslims. The friend I had a conversation with also said he was taught that in the afterlife anyone who listened to music would have boiling lead poured down their ears. Sometimes people will feel guilty for doing things which are considered trivial but, Islamically, they are told is wrong.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

May 31, 2017 at 7:21 am

Terror in Manchester

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Pic Credit: PA

This is a cross-post from Sedaa

 

A terrorist attack in my own city is the last thing I expected to wake up to on Tuesday morning. There were several messages on my phone from concerned friends and acquaintances urging me to contact them as soon as I could. I wondered what had happened, until I went online to read the news.

At least 22 people were killed and 59 injured after a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena on the evening of Monday, May 22. Thousands of gig-goers were packed into the city centre venue to see American singer Ariana Grande when the explosion shook the arena.

Photos and videos were uploaded showing innocent young people fleeing the scene — scared, worried and confused. Some had been separated from their friends and parents. Some, unfortunately, did not make it out alive.

The youngest victim is thought to be eight-year-old Saffie-Rose Roussos. The others confirmed dead are Georgina Bethany Callander and John Atksinson. One can’t imagine what their friends and families must be feeling at this difficult time.

Salman Ramadan Abedi, a 22-year-old Mancunian of Libyan descent, was confirmed as the man responsible for this atrocity, which has claimed the lives of many children. He died at the scene. I doubt there will be many people shedding tears over him. A 23-year-old has also been arrested in Manchester in connection with the attack.

“Evil losers” is how Donald Trump described the attackers behind the attack. And, surprisingly, I agree with the US President. Describing Abedi as a monster would be glamourising him; an evil loser seems much more suitable. I expect more information will come out about him soon; it is highly unlikely it was a ‘lone wolf’ attack, for these people are usually part of a wider network.

 

Victims and missing people from Manchester Arena attack

 

It was heartwarming to see Mancunians rallying round and offering their rooms to stranded people, bars/restaurants doling out hot drinks for the emergency services and taxi drivers taking children home for free. This is why I am proud to call Manchester my home; this is why I love this city so much. No matter what atrocity strikes, we often forget that people are, by and large, compassionate and will help others in their times of need. Thank you to everyone who messaged me to ask if I was safe.

While calls for unity and calm are appreciated, we should stop saying that this is the “new normal”.  If normal means regular terrorist attacks against innocent people, then we must not “go back to normal”.  As nice as they are, candlelight vigils and “Pray for….” messages are not going to solve the problem of extremism.

In due course, I expect the usual suspects will condemn the attack while simultaneously blaming western foreign policy and victim blaming. The attack was driven by a brutal ideology that abhors any enjoyment of life. For that is what these young people were doing — they were enjoying a music concert, living life to the full. Their pleasure had nothing to with global wars.

As Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid said previously:

“Modern-day jihadism breeds on two ideas, neither of whom is vocally refuted by us Muslims. First, that West is to blame for Muslim world’s volatility. Second, that Islam is a superlative doctrine, and ideologically self-sufficient to govern the world.”

Some people are more interested in scoring points or being so politically correct that we hear the same debate and the same outdated views being espoused by the usual suspects on both sides. Some on the right will not differentiate between ordinary Muslims and terrorists, choosing to attack mosques or women in hijabs as retaliation, while those on the left and even within Muslim communities will deny any role that ideology or religion has in such attacks.

There will be another terrorist attack, perhaps in a different city, prompting the same debate. Have we not had enough? It is one thing to read about attacks in far-away places but when it is in your own city it is different. It is much closer to home. I, for one, have had enough.

 

 

* In the meantime, police have urged those who are concerned about loved ones who were in the area to call the National Casualty Bureau on 0800 096 0095.  Anyone who was in the city centre between 8pm and 11pm on Monday night and has dashcam footage is being urged to submit it to the National Police Chiefs’ Council image appeal site.

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